WHY VITAMIN A
Vitamin A deficiency is a public health problem all around the world, affecting children under five in more than half of all 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. Maternal vitamin A deficiency is also a problem in many countries, resulting in night blindness during pregnancy and babies being born with a deficiency in vitamin A.
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 – and controlling infection.
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, supplementing children between the ages of six months and five years of age with two doses of vitamin A per year reduces their chance of dying by up to 12 per cent, and the incidence of diarrhoea by 15 per cent, incrementally reducing the odds of child stunting.
Nutrition International is committed to supporting vitamin A supplementation programs for children six 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 and other routine preventive health services.
How we deliver over 10 billion capsules
Working with vitamin A capsule 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 six 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.
For more on the 10 billionth vitamin A capsule, see our campaign and video.
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, and mangoes.
- Since 1997, Nutrition International has provided more than 10 billion doses of vitamin A to children who needed them.
- In 2018, through the efforts of Nutrition International and partners, we reached an estimated 150 million children in 55 countries with two doses of life-saving vitamin A to boost their immunity and help protect them from preventable childhood diseases.
- Between 1997 and 2018, Nutrition International has reached up to 75% of those who needed vitamin A supplements in developing countries.
- Since 1997, Nutrition International has provided more than 10 billion doses of vitamin A to children around the world.
- 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 2018, Nutrition International donated enough vitamin A capsules through UNICEF to meet the needs of an estimated 150 million children 6-59 months of age with two doses of vitamin A, in 55 countries.
Health systems support
In addition to the capsule donation program, Nutrition International works closely with UNICEF 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, and other essential preventive services to help them survive and thrive.
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 vitamin A supplementation 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)
- Helen Keller International (HKI)
- Nutrition International – chair
- United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)
- World Health Organization (WHO)
Did you know?
Over 25 years ago, a systematic review of the evidence from clinical trials around the world showed that supplementing deficient children with vitamin A could reduce deaths in children between the ages of six and 59 months of age by 23 per cent. Since then, as the burden of disease, living conditions and the quality of the diet has improved somewhat since in low- and middle-income countries, additional more recent systematic reviews has revised this estimate to 12% . Even at 12% however, it is still one of top interventions for child survival. Committed to saving children’s lives for over 25 years, 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.