Reaching children in emergencies with lifesaving vitamin A in Afghanistan

A child receives a dose of vitamin A as part of Afghanistan´s national immunization day campaign. Vitamin A helps to improve her immune system and protect her from deadly diseases such as pneumonia and diarrhoea.

A child receives a dose of vitamin A as part of Afghanistan´s national immunization day campaign. Vitamin A helps to improve her immune system and protect her from deadly diseases such as pneumonia and diarrhoea.

In April 2010, thousands of volunteers spread out across Afghanistan to give children a better chance at life.

They delivered millions of life-saving vitamin A supplements to help reduce child deaths in a country with one of the highest child mortality rates in the world.

In mid-October these volunteers will go out again as part of an essential Canadian-supported child health initiative in an effort to give Afghan children a better chance at life.

Vitamin A deficiency is the leading cause of preventable childhood blindness, and it increases a young child´s risk of mortality from common illnesses, including measles. Vitamin A and zinc deficiencies in newborn infants and children account for one million deaths annually around the world.

The Micronutrient Initiative’s vitamin A program, supported by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), is one of Canada’s most successful international development stories.

Since 1997, the organization has provided more than 75 per cent of the developing world’s need for vitamin A and has contributed to saving the lives of an estimated 450,000 to 500,000 children every year.

The vitamin A capsules, manufactured in Canada, are donated primarily to UNICEF, which then distributes them through national child health programs in more than 70 countries around the world.

In Afghanistan, children receive vitamin A supplementation along with the vaccination against polio as part of national immunization days national immunization days.

The volunteers who deliver the vitamin A and vaccine, trained by WHO and UNICEF, are reaching up to 95 per cent of Afghan children. Most children will receive their vitamin A dose from volunteers who go door-to-door to deliver these life-saving interventions. Families welcome the volunteers into their communities and their homes.

Despite instability in the country, vitamin A supplementation coverage is high, much higher than in some neighbouring countries. Canadian support of both the polio eradication project and vitamin A supplementation has been essential to the success of both programs.