Vitamin Angels needs regular donations from industry

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Vitamin angels Vitamin Nutrition

2005 was a year marked by disasters, but as the supplements
industry rallied to support the victims it was a record year for
donations to The Vitamin Angel Alliance. Jess Halliday spoke
to the alliance's founder and president Howard B Schiffer about
this year's targets, on-going programs, and why donating could
benefit companies as well as recipients.

Many companies issue a press release when they make a donation to a charitable cause. But being involved in a charity like Vitamin Angels can have a good effect on internal PR, as well as external.

When just two vitamin A tablets is enough to prevent a child from going blind, for example, it can give morale in the workplace a boost. The sense of contributing to a wider good is felt throughout a company, in manufacturing, sales, and at management level.

"It is a reminder to a lot of people why they are working in the industry,"​ Schiffer told "We have the ability to make an impact on global health.

"We see things people cannot imagine. They cannot perceive of how depleted people's bodies become, and conversely the results of giving them supplements."

What is more, at a time when the supplements industry has come under fire in the media as a result of unfavourable or misinterpreted study results, the difference that products can make between life and death validates just how important vitamins and basic nutrition are.

"This industry has been under attack and ridiculed for years,"​ said Schiffer. "The World Health Organisation and UNICEF know how critical it is."

He drew upon a 2002 WHO report on risks to health around the world, in which lack of nutrition was cited as the number one factor.

Publicising charitable donations can also translate into sales. For example, when Rainbow Light pledged that it would donate one pack of prenatal supplements out of every ten sold to Vitamin Angels, it expected a 3 percent increase in sales.

In the first year of the initiative sales actually rose by 20 percent.

For international companies, making donations overseas can help them to build a presence in emerging markets, said Schiffer.

For example, the alliance is currently working with Johnson & Johnson in India, which the multinational sees as one of the biggest developing markets in the next 20 years.

Last year Vitamin Angels was able to supply 100m supplements (individual tablets or capsules) to people in 42 countries around the world.

It was an exceptional year, marked by several major disasters including the tsunami in South East Asia, Hurricane Katrina in the USA and the earthquake in Pakistan.

As the total figure for 2004 was 23.4 m supplements, the initial 2005 target was just 30m. But that was how many it was able to deliver to the Pakistan relief effort alone.

This year, Schiffer is aiming for 200m, "but it should be a billion."

"We really want to rally the industry. We are asking for companies to contribute not just overages and misformulations - which are much appreciated - but also to donate on a monthly basis so that we can build long-term programs."

To date, around 120 companies have made donations in the history of the alliance, but only "a couple of dozen"​ on a regular basis.

Vitamin Angels was born 12 years ago, in the aftermath of the 1994 Northridge earthquake in Southern California. Schiffer had worked in the supplements industry for many years but his experience was in raw materials.

After being contacted by an aid agency working to prevent disease breaking out amongst the displaced migrant communities Schiffer facilitated the donation of vitamins, and made the acquaintance with Ellen Engleman, then of Direct Relief, who taught him what he needed to know about logistics. The charity aims to bring better nutrition through supplements to three main groups of people around the world: those affected by natural disasters; by war and endemic poverty; and suffering from malnutrition as a result of being poor.

In all of these situations, young children are the most vulnerable, he said.

In fact, 50 percent of deaths amongst under-5s are down to chronic malnutrition. It is not just about starvation, but if a child's immune system is depleted due to lack of nutrition it will not be able to withstand infections. As a result, common childhood diseases like measles can be fatal.

At present many children, from the day they are born, will never achieve their intellectual and structural capacity because of the nutritional deficit of their parents before they were even conceived.

"This is something we know the answer for. If we can put right the nutrition then it's going to make a difference."

Schiffer said the three main things needed in a humanitarian relief operation are shelter and clothing, medical supplies, and nutrition.

The latter is often the most problematic, as it can be impossible to deliver fresh fruit and vegetables to the people who need them.

"Even if you can get them into the country, you still have to get them to a remote region where there may be no infrastructure."

Supplements, on the other hand, can be transported by camel or on foot.

For many years Vitamin Angels operated on a donations basis, but in the last 18 months it has been in a position to run programs around the world, in partnership with local non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

It is important, said Schiffer, to partner at local level as they have knowledge of issues such as customs, language, logistics, and personnel, all of which are important in ensuring the program can continue into the long-term.

Vitamin Angels' current programs include a blindness prevention campaign in India, now in its third year and reaching 1m children, lactating mothers and babies with vitamin A; a maternal health project in Indonesia to prevent haemorrhaging during childbirth; distribution of 1m multiple vitamins every month to children in Tibet; the distribution a daily multivitamin and anti-parasitics to 30,000 children in Honduras for the next three years; a program in the Dominican Republic to prevent vitamin deficiency diseases in children.

"We are big in terms of where we come from, but small in where we want to go."

In the next ten years, the aim is for Vitamin Angels to be the agency to go to, for anyone doing a project involving nutrition.

And for the people who benefit from Vitamin Angel's work, the future is - having a future at all.

For more information about The Vitamin Angel Alliance and to make a donation, visit website

Related topics Eye health Maternal & infant health

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