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International forum issues joint call for enhanced investment in micronutrients

© UNICEF/NYHQ2008-1647/Pirozzi
A baby receives a dose of vitamin A at a nutrition screening in the rural village of Marat in Eritrea, where UNICEF is supporting nutrition screenings and the distribution of vitamin A supplements, which boost immune function.

NEW YORK, USA, 12 May 2009 – UNICEF is one of a wide range of development partners in the UN, academic, non-governmental and private sectors that today called on the world’s governments to invest more in life-saving vitamins and minerals to prevent illness, blindness and mental disorders that result from vitamin deficiencies.

Released at the start of the 2009 Micronutrient Forum in Beijing, the partners’ report emphasizes the need for improved delivery of fortified food and supplements.

“Among an estimated 2 billion people worldwide who suffer from vitamin and mineral deficiencies are large numbers of children whose future is being compromised, often with life-long consequences,” said UNICEF Director or Programmes Dr. Nicholas Alipui. “It is imperative that governments and development partners prioritize these highly cost-effective interventions to protect children from preventable deaths, ill health, disability and impaired learning.”

‘The solutions are known’
The new report – 'Investing in the Future: A united call to action on vitamin and mineral deficiencies' – was funded by the Micronutrient Initiative, a Canada-based international not-for-profit organization, with the financial support of the Canadian International Development Agency.

Among those endorsing the report’s findings were the Flour Fortification Initiative, the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, UNICEF, the US Agency for International Development, the World Bank and the World Health Organization. It is the first such joint call to action.

As the report points out, approximately 670,000 children under the age of five die due to lack of vitamin A in their diets every year. Iron-deficiency anaemia during pregnancy is associated with 115,000 fatalities annually, accounting for one-fifth of total maternal deaths. And iodine deficiency, while greatly improved through national salt-iodization campaigns, still affects nearly 50 countries.

© UNICEF/BANA2008-00138/Noorani
Jhilo Akther takes a high-potency vitamin A capsule at an outreach site in Lelan village, located in the Chittagong district of Bangladesh.

“The solutions are known, and they are amongst the most cost-effective investments for child survival and development,” said Dr. Alipui. “It is imperative that serious attention is given to this issue, especially where one quarter of children in developing countries are undernourished and the economic downturn is further threatening the nutrition security of vulnerable children and women.”

Benefits of micronutrient investment
‘Investing in the Future’ makes the following recommendations to improve nutrition security:

  • Scaling up the delivery of integrated health services, including twice-yearly vitamin A supplementation for children between six months and five years of age
  • Enacting mandatory legislation to ensure that all salt is iodized, and providing adequate resources to enforce this legislation
  • Setting and monitoring national standards for food-fortification programmes
  • Scaling up availability of multiple micronutrient supplements for in-home use in specified regions
  • Scaling up iron and folic acid supplements for all women of childbearing age, with a special focus on pregnant women
  • Incorporating zinc supplementation into national diarrhoea management policy, and ensuring zinc supply.

The report also provides evidence on the economic benefits of micronutrient investment. Noting that every dollar spent on vitamin A and zinc supplementation programmes creates benefits worth more than $17, the report concludes that “the benefit-cost ratio of micronutrient programming is unmatched by any other large-scale health or economic intervention.”



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