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In Madagascar, a small capsule of vitamin A saves children’s lives

© UNICEF/Madagascar/2006
Children receive life-saving vitamin A twice a year in Madagascar.
By Misbah M. Sheikh

FENERIVE EST, Madagascar, 23 May 2006 – It may seem like a routine event, but twice a year in Madagascar, children under the age of five receive a small capsule of vitamin A. This month, over 3 million of the country's children are receiving vitamin A doses

Vitamin A is essential in building a child’s immunity. However, not all children can store enough of the vitamin in their bodies, particularly if they don’t eat vitamin A-rich foods.

In countries like Madagascar, where childhood diets are often of poor quality and nearly half of all children have frequent episodes of malaria and diarrhoea, vitamin A is essential in helping to boost a child’s immunity.

Child survival interventions

“My older children never got vitamin A,” says Marie Genevieve, a resident of Fenerive Est, in the east of Madagascar. “When they were born, I didn’t even go to the health centre, but the younger children are lucky. Ever since the government organized these vitamin A campaigns five years ago, we take all the children, even the older ones, because there is always a doctor on hand to give you advice about diarrhoea or worms as well as give you free medicine.”

UNICEF Representative in Madagascar Barbara Bentein adds: “That’s the beauty of these campaigns. They allow the Ministry of Health and Family Planning to reach all children in the country – all children, that is, between six months and five years of age, regardless of where they live – with essential child survival interventions, such as vitamin A, de-worming tablets and vaccinations.”

Vitamin A campaigns are also an opportunity for health workers to advise mothers about breastfeeding and complementary foods, as well as give them tips on preventing malaria and diarrhoea.

Supplements for 3 million

Publications such as the Lancet have shown that regular supplementation of children with vitamin A contributes to a reduction in child mortality. In Madagascar, supplementation has contributed to reducing the number of child deaths by an estimated 40,000 per year.

This month's vitamin A campaign has been organized by a team of government and NGO partners, along with UNICEF. The team has developed communication materials to mobilize mothers to bring their children for their supplements.

As the current campaign winds down, another one is already in the planning process. Thanks to the generous support of donors – notably the Canadian Agency for International Development, which has funded the vitamin A programme since 1997 – the children of Madagascar know that twice a year there will be a few days dedicated to ensuring their rights to survival, development, good health and nutrition.




17 May 2006: UNICEF’s Misbah M. Sheikh reports on how vitamin A supplementation saves children’s lives in Madagascar.
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