Vitamin A supplements given to children can significantly improve growth rates which might normally be stunted by disease, according to recent research carried out in Africa.
A study by Harvard University involved about 690 children from Tanzania between 6 months and 60 months old who had been admitted to the hospital with pneumonia. Around 24% of the children were also suffering from malaria, while 9% also tested positive for HIV infection.
Some children in the study received an oral dose of vitamin A on their first day of admission, a second dose on the second day, and third and fourth doses four and eight months after they were discharged. A second group of children received placebo doses at the same times.
The researchers measured the height and weight of the children at the beginning of the study and again during monthly visits to the clinic.
After one year, the results showed HIV-positive children under 18 months old who received vitamin A supplements improved in terms of height, while those who had malaria and were less than a year old improved in terms of weight.
They survey also showed that children living in areas with poor water supplies showed an improvement in height, while the supplements all but eliminated the risk of stunted growth associated with persistent diarrhoea.
The Harvard researcher concluded that providing vitamin A supplements every four months to children under the age of 5 who live in areas with a high rate of infectious diseases such as HIV, malaria, and diarrhoea could be an effective and inexpensive way to help these children reach their full growth potential.