WHY VITAMIN A
Vitamin A deficiency is a public health problem all around the world, affecting more than 100 countries. A lack of vitamin A weakens the immune system, putting a child at greater risk of disease and early death; and it is also the leading cause of preventable child blindness.
The solution for correcting vitamin A deficiency lies in improving the child’s diet – through increased consumption of vitamin A-rich foods, naturally rich or commercially fortified foods such as processed oils or sugar.
In countries where this remains a public health problem, and while food-based solutions are gradually being implemented and scaled-up to reach those populations, giving children two doses of vitamin A per year – when children are between the ages of 6 months and 5 years of age – reduces their chance of dying by up to 24 per cent and reduces child blindness by up to 70 per cent.
Nutrition International is committed to supporting vitamin A supplement programs for children 6 to 59 months of age as one of the most cost-effective ways to improve child survival.
One vitamin A capsule costs only two cents to manufacture and can often be delivered through existing child health programs, such as immunization.
Did you know?
- Vitamin A can be found in two categories of food sources: animal sources such as dairy, fish, and meat; and plant sources such as green leafy vegetables, carrots, sweet potatoes, mangos.
- Since 1997, Nutrition International has provided more than 9 billion doses of vitamin A to the world’s most vulnerable.
- According to the latest estimates by UNICEF (*State of the World’s Children 2014), global two-dose coverage of preschool age children reached 70% in 2012.
- In 2016, through the efforts of Nutrition International and partners, we reached an estimated 174 million children in over 60 countries with 2 doses of life-saving vitamin A to boost their immunity and help protect them from preventable childhood diseases.
- Between 1997 and 2016, Nutrition International has reached up to 75% of those who needed vitamin A in developing countries.
- From 1997 to 2016, Nutrition International has provided more than 9 billion doses of vitamin A to the world’s most vulnerable. In a span of over 15 years, with funding from Canada’s Department of Global Affairs Canada (GAC), these efforts have succeeded in reaching up to 75 per cent of those who need the supplement globally.
- Today, you can find bottles of vitamin A capsules, most stamped with a Canadian flag and the Nutrition International logo, on the shelves of health posts and health centers from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.
- In 2016, Nutrition International donated enough vitamin A capsules through UNICEF to meet the needs of an estimated 174 million children 6-59 months of age with two doses of vitamin A, in over 60 countries.
How we deliver over 9 billion capsules
Working with private sector manufacturers, originally only in Canada and now around the world, Nutrition International and UNICEF work to ensure the capsules produced can survive transport to hot climates, have a shelf life of three years, and be easily and safely administered by front-line health workers.
High doses of vitamin A in oil is encapsulated into either a red or blue gelatin capsule: blue is the lower dose, 100,000 IU, for children 6 to 11 months of age and red is the higher dose, 200,000 IU for the children 12 to 59 months. The colour of the capsule tells the health worker the dose so all they have to do is snip off the end and squeeze the contents into a child’s mouth.
Health systems support
In addition to the capsule donation program, Nutrition International works closely with UNICEF, Helen Keller International (HKI), and other development partners to support ministries of health to deliver vitamin A supplementation programs to their preschool age children. This includes:
- Working with governments to ensure vitamin A supplementation is an integral part of their child survival strategy.
- Working with ministries of health to ensure that vitamin A supplementation is part of the health package delivered at child health events, and routine contact.
- Developing tools to help health workers plan, carry out and monitor their vitamin A supplementation efforts. See, for example, Nutrition International’s Vitamin A in Child Health Weeks: A toolkit for Planning Implementing and Monitoring.
- Developing and testing models to overcome social, economic and geographic barriers that prevent children from getting vitamin A supplements.
Global Alliance for Vitamin A
Nutrition International Chairs the Global Alliance for Vitamin A (GAVA), which is an informal alliance of partners whose mission is to accelerate progress toward improved child survival and reduction in the consequences of vitamin A deficiency globally.
The mission is carried out by providing a forum for achieving consensus on research, policy and program approaches, focusing on the role of VAS for preschool children within the context of other evidence-based intervention programs that aim to achieve optimal vitamin A intake among vulnerable populations.
Core members of GAVA include:
- Centre for Disease Control (CDC) – current co-chair
- Helen Keller International (HKI)
- Nutrition International – chair
- United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)
- World Health Organization (WHO)
Did you know?
Over 20 years ago, researchers at the University of Toronto and others compiled evidence from clinical trials around the world that showed that supplementing deficient children with vitamin A could reduce deaths in children between the ages of 6 and 59 months of age by 23 per cent. Since then, Nutrition International has been working with ministries of health, and the agencies that support them, around the world to deliver twice-yearly doses of vitamin A to deficient children in developing nations.
By the late 1990’s, life-saving vitamin A supplementation programs were scaling up at a rapid pace, but the availability of high quality vitamin A capsules became a limiting factor in many countries. To address this gap, through support by the Canadian government, Nutrition International established a global capsule donation program in collaboration with UNICEF to procure and supply high-quality vitamin A capsules to over 60 eligible countries around the world.