Hundreds of Indian children ill after vitamin dose

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: India

A United Nations-sponsored drive to protect against blindness in
northeastern India left 700 children in hospital and may be related
to the death of a 2-year-old girl.

A United Nations-sponsored drive to protect against blindness in northeastern India left 700 children in hospital and may be related to the death of a 2-year-old girl, government officials said Tuesday. Medical workers gave vitamin A supplied by UN humanitarian agency UNICEF to 321,000 children up to the age of 6 in the northeastern state of Assam in order to ward off blindness, state officials said. "At present there are 700 children hospitalised in different parts of the state and they are not in a serious condition,"​ state health minister Bhumidhar Burman told a news conference. He said a 2-year-old girl died two hours after she was given a dose of vitamin A on Sunday, adding that earlier reports that up to 10,000 children might have been affected by the concentrated vitamin A solution were unfounded. Doctors regard vitamin A as a simple, cost-effective way to prevent blindness among poor families whose diets often lack vitamins. Parents rushed children suffering from fever, vomiting and stomach pains to hospital after the vitamin A was given, Dr. B.C. Kro, head of state health services, said. Thousands more parents sought hospital checkups for their children as news of the illness spread and extra police were called in to control crowds thronging emergency rooms. At a news conference in the capital of the tea-and-oil-rich state, UNICEF regional officer Carrie Auer denied allegations by police that the vitamin A batch was contaminated. Burman said samples had been sent for testing and the government had banned use of the vitamin A solution until the results were known. Auer said the batch was "not contaminated but fine as the products were manufactured in the months of June and August,"​ adding the agency was "seriously looking into the incident."​ In Geneva, UNICEF spokeswoman Wivina Belmonte said that the agency eagerly awaited the results of the investigation by Assam's health ministry. "This was the third round of vitamin A administration in Assam this year. There was no complications from the others. In past year, a total of 35 million Indian children have received doses to prevent blindness,"​ Belmonte told a news briefing. Kro said the children may have received an overdose. He said a preliminary investigation had showed the doses were not contaminated and the expiry date on the vitamin was 2003.

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