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Pacific children at greater risk of illness as they miss life-saving vitamin A supplements

© UNICEF Pacific/2018/Hing
Nurse Laisani administers Vitamin A to Elijah 2 years supported by his mum Una, at the colonial War Memorial Hospital Children's Ward.

SUVA, 2 May 2018  – Over 140 million children are at greater risk of illness, hearing loss, blindness and even death globally if urgent action is not taken to provide them with life-saving vitamin A supplements, warns UNICEF in a new report released today. Two doses of vitamin A every year can save thousands of children’s lives, yet recent surveys in the Pacific islands show coverage of this low-cost intervention reach only about half the region’s children.

Vitamin A boosts the immune system and can help protect young children from potentially fatal diseases like measles and diarrhea. While data is limited on Vitamin A coverage rates in the Pacific, household surveys indicate that coverage rates vary from 66 per cent in Kiribati to 25 per cent in Vanuatu.*

“Too many of the Pacific region’s children are missing out on a low-cost, high-impact health intervention, which not only helps children to survive, but thrive,” said UNICEF Pacific Representative, Mr Sheldon Yett.

“UNICEF supports governments to tackle Vitamin A deficiency through the promotion of breastfeeding in the first two years of life, improving the quality and diversity of children’s diets, and improving child feeding and hygiene practices,” he added.

In this region, vitamin A supplements are traditionally delivered through routine health centre visits. For those Pacific countries where survey data is available, on average almost half of these children do not receive vitamin A supplementation with many children in the remote islands being missed.

Globally, the decrease and inconsistency in vitamin A supplementation coverage is a severe blow to efforts to reduce child mortality. In addition, the most affected countries are already grappling with fragile health systems to deliver life-saving services to immunize children, promote nutrition and prevent malaria. 

In the report, UNICEF calls for routine ways to deliver life-saving interventions to the most vulnerable children. The report recommends improving coverage by:

  • Calling for greater commitment from national governments and their development partners to reach every child with a vitamin A dose, twice per year.
  • Building stronger systems so that health services, including vitamin A supplements, are delivered regularly and equitably.
  • Gathering and sharing knowledge on ways to deliver vitamin A supplements, through routine immunization and other routine services for children.
  • Tracking every child, through better use of child health cards and booklets to know which children receive two vitamin A supplements yearly for full protection

The report also appeals for improved nutrition for children and the expansion of support for breastfeeding in the first two years. At the same time, the report notes that until children have access to nutritious and safe diets that protect them from vitamin A deficiency, vitamin A supplementation programmes remain essential in many countries.

* Kiribati 66% (DHS, 2009); Republic of Marshall Islands 54% (DHS, 2017); Solomon Islands 37% (DHS, 2015); Vanuatu 25% (DHS, 2012).

Download Pacific photos here: https://weshare.unicef.org/Share/6gnw5s1784t6i8a31o04g6qhu67c6xgs

The report is based on data from UNICEF Global Databases, 2018.

About UNICEF

UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone. For more information about UNICEF and its work for children, visit www.unicef.org. Learn about UNICEF’s work on vitamin A.

Follow UNICEF Pacific on http://www.unicefpacific.org/ Twitter and Facebook

For more information, please contact:

Cate Heinrich, cheinrich@unicef.org, +679 9925606

 

 
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