The secret to Razia’s agility and mental strength
Iron and folic acid supplements helped this student regain her focus
BALKH PROVINCE, AFGHANISTAN — At the European Union-supported health centre in Ali Chopan, Mazar-i-Sharif, Razia Ahmadi has just helped the midwife deliver the fifth baby of the day. Mother and newborn are born healthy. Content, relieved and energized, Razia brings the happy news to the father and grandparents waiting outside the delivery room.
Razia, one of eight siblings, lives in Ali Chopan. A recent high school graduate, Razia is an outgoing and confident student. She is currently studying for the university entry exam and hopes to score high enough to enter the medical department. The 18-year-old enjoys her day-to-day work, but things have not always been like this.
“I always wanted to be a medical doctor, but I’ve never been so focused and determined about it since my teachers and community health workers told me about the importance of taking iron and folic acid tablets. I never miss taking the tablets. I really need them and I really feel the benefit.”
Until grade 10, and before the European Union-funded weekly iron and folic acid programme for adolescent girls, Razia felt depressed and fatigued. She had little interest in mingling with her peers and wanted to sleep most of the time.
Critically, she had no energy or enthusiasm to volunteer at the clinic.
“Everything seemed dull to me; I felt lazy and got annoyed if my mother or siblings asked me to help them with house chores,” Razia recalls.
No one in Razia’s family understood why she was so listless. But her community health worker suggested she start taking iron and folic acid tablets.
“Within weeks of taking the tablets, I started to feel much stronger. I had more energy and I started to help my mother with housework. Learning my lessons didn’t felt like climbing a mountain.”
The dizziness at school, sleepiness in class, difficulty concentrating on her lessons and the difficulty to understand what was being taught, gradually faded after taking the folic acid.
“It was like a fog lifting. Now, I could run a marathon and not even flinch,” laughs Razia.
One third of adolescent girls in Afghanistan is anemic. But research has shown that taken regularly once a week, iron and folic acid can help lower the prevalence of anemia. With funding from the European Union, these programmes are operational in 10 provinces.
Inspired by the impact the supplements have had, Razia recently donned another hat, becoming an advocate for iron and folic acid supplementation. According to Razia, she knows many girls in her community who feel like she used to, and she wants to help them.
Razia’s hard work is being touted by her community elders who are proud of the way she is supporting so many people. Many girls want to be like her and experience positive changes in their lives too.
In 2017 and 2018, UNICEF, with the Ministries of Health and Education, conducted several media campaigns on the importance of weekly iron and folic acid supplementation. Important messages included not drinking tea 2-3 hours before or after meals, or less iron would be absorbed by the body. Tablet absorption is also enhanced if it is taken at the same time as food containing vitamin C, such as lemon and oranges.