Iron is an important micronutrient that ensures the development of normal red blood cells and healthy immune function.
Iron deficiency is the most common and widespread nutritional deficiency in the world – affecting the very poor, especially women – and is the cause of about half of all cases of anaemia.
Anaemia reduces the energy levels and capacity of people to fully function in their communities and lives. Affecting entire populations, it can result in economic consequences for countries.
Nutrition International helps get iron to the people who need it most by providing leadership and technical expertise to countries that are developing their iron supplementation and fortification programs. We have maternal and female-focused nutrition projects in countries around the world and are proud to have contributed to progress in improving access to iron.
- In 2013, 1.8 million pregnant women received iron-folic acid (IFA) supplements due to Nutrition International support and over 12,000 health workers were trained to counsel, follow up, report and forecast stocks.
- In Kenya and Ethiopia, Nutrition International’s efforts to increase consumption of IFA supplements (at least 90 supplements during pregnancy) showed early success in 2013 – consumption rates jumped from 2.5% to 27.3% in Kenya, and from 0.4% to 20% in Ethiopia.
- Nutrition International’s advocacy efforts, combined with UNICEF, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, and other organizations, have seen the number of countries routinely adding iron to flour increase: from two in 1990 to 79 in 2014.
- Nutrition International worked with the World Food Programme (WFP) and flour millers in Pakistan to fortify flour for distribution in Afghanistan, where it reached about 2.5 million people.
Nutrition International works with key partners to ensure that iron is including in the micronutrient supplements distributed to these vulnerable populations through routine health services, such as antenatal care.
Our work also supports:
- national iron and folic acid (IFA) polices
- well-managed supply chains to ensure IFA is available in all health facilities
- training to health providers and community health workers to adequately counsel women
- well-functioning health information systems that are able to monitor program.
Through our food fortification programs, we are working with other agencies, governments and flour producers to fortify maize and wheat with iron and other micronutrients.
We also advocate for other innovative means, like delayed clamping of the umbilical cord at birth to ensure that newborns receive a key infusion of iron from their mothers in the critical moments after birth.
Challenges to reducing iron deficiency remain. Health systems are often broken. Women don’t attend ante-natal vistis early enough for supplementation initiatives to make a difference. Too many women who take iron supplements stop because the doses are strong and the supplements make them feel sick.
We are working on these challenges to progress and, with your continued support, are finding solutions.
Iron Deficiency in Pregnancy
The World Health Organization (WHO) has categorized iron deficiency as one of the top 10 most serious health problems in the modern world, estimating that one out of every two pregnant woman living in a developing country is anaemic.
The consequences are serious. During pregnancy, a woman’s need for iron increases – because both fetus and placenta require iron to thrive.
A sick or depleted mother has more potential to deliver a sick or depleted baby. Lack of iron is linked to a woman’s risk of experiencing post-partum hemorrhage and overall blood loss.
About 50,000 women die in childbirth each year due to a lack of iron. In addition, studies have shown that infants with anaemia caused by iron deficiency have lower mental scores and lower motor scores.
Did you know?
- Our bodies absorb iron when we eat a diet filled with iron-rich foods, such as leafy vegetables, beans and proteins like meat, fish and poultry. Similar to other important micronutrients, many of the foods that contain iron are hard to come by for people living in poverty.
- It is difficult for most women to get enough iron through diet alone. Pregnant women and women of child-bearing age are particularly at risk for iron deficiency anaemia because her iron requirements go up significantly when pregnant because her iron requirements go up significantly – almost 50 per cent – when pregnant.
- One leap forward in tackling iron deficiency came about when the Nutrition International put this leading question to academics at the University of Toronto: if adding iodine to salt works so well, what else can we add to salt that would improve global health? They were thinking about iron, knowing that if successful, double-fortifying salt with iodine and iron could boost the health of an estimated two billion people suffering from iron-deficient anaemia.Today, 5.36 million children in approximately 42,000 schools in the Tamil Nadu state of India are receiving iron through double fortified salt in their mid-day meals.
- Double Fortified Salt: Feeding the Body and the Brain (PDF)
- World Health Organization Guidelines:
- Intermittent iron and folic acid supplementation in menstruating women
- Intermittent iron and folic acid supplementation in non-anaemic pregnant women
- Daily iron and folic acid supplementation in pregnant women
- Use of multiple micronutrient powders for home fortification of foods consumed by pregnant women
- Weekly Iron-Folic Acid Supplementation (WIFS) in women of reproductive age
- Use of multiple micronutrient powders for home fortification of foods consumed by infants and children 6–23 months of age