|Vitamin A deficiency: Key Resources in its Prevention and Elimination (Micronutient Initiative) (IDRC, 1996)|
Vitamin A deficiency is a public health problem in more than 75 countries and affects as many as 228 million children subclinically at a severe or moderate level. Some 3.1 million preschool age children have eye damage due to vitamin A deficiency and an estimated 250,000 500,000 preschool children go blind every year. Vitamin A deficiency is the most preventable cause of blindness worldwide. The impact of vitamin A deficiency, however, is more extensive than the ocular effects. Xerophthalmia and low vitamin A levels are associated with increased mortality and severity of morbidity from respiratory and gastrointestinal disease. Recent findings have indicated that vitamin A is a key modulator of the immune system and may play a role in preventing the development of cancer. Sufficient vitamin A stores could significantly reduce the risk of transmission of HIV from infected mothers to their babies. The virtual elimination of vitamin A deficiency and its consequences is one of the goals of the World Summit for Children for the year 2000.
There has been a dynamic evolution of the global effort to address vitamin A deficiency accelerated by the mid-decade goal set by the Joint Committee on Health Policy of the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF to ensure that at least 80% of all children under 24 months of age living in areas with inadequate vitamin A intake receive adequate vitamin A.
Ending the hidden hunger caused by deficiencies in the three micronutrients iodine, iron, and vitamin A is potentially the most important achievable international health goal of the decade. Although a lot of information is available about different components of vitamin A deficiency prevention and control, all of it is not in one place and cannot be easily accessed especially by those working in the field. In general, there is a need to reduce the gap between what is known and what is done.
This document has been compiled by the Micronutrient Initiative to cater to this need. It is hoped that the document will assist in endeavours to achieve and sustain the mid- and end-decade goals to eliminate the problem of vitamin A deficiency.
M.G.Venkatesh Mannar Executive Director The Micronutrient Initiative