In Afghanistan, vitamin A supplementation is a key strategy to prevent deficiency among young children. Children receive vitamin A supplements as part of the National Immunization Days (NID) campaign.
“Vitamin A deficiency is a major problem. Recent history of diarrhoeal disease, reported night blindness, maternal education of fewer than nine years, and infrequent consumption of eggs, mangoes, and liver were associated with increased risk of vitamin A deficiency,” said the researchers.
Therefore, the team embarked on a cross-sectional case study, with data collected from June 2015 to February 2016. After applying a stratified two-stage sampling in urban and rural areas, a total of 27,209 children aged six to 59 months and living with their mothers were analysed.
Yay or nay to vitamin A
Regarding social demographics, a total of 2,600 out of 5,265 children, or 49.4%, of the lowest wealth quintile were found to have been given vitamin A supplementation. Among the children in the highest wealth quintile, 2,557 out of 5,014 individuals, or 51%, consumed vitamin A supplements.
Additionally, 1,572 children aged six to eight months were observed to have been given vitamin A supplementation.
Various factors might have contributed to the risk of deficiency, such as prevalent maternal undernutrition, poor diet, nutrient loss during diarrhoeal episodes and financially unable to get supplementation.
Hence, the phenomenon is common in many low- to middle-income nations even if they rely heavily on vegetables and fruits, and the authorities lack the strategy to prevent or reduce deficiencies, said the researchers.
Consequently, these infants and children could face visual impairment (night blindness), become anaemic, have weakened immune systems, and have an increased risk of illness and death from childhood diseases like measles.
Hence, it is recommended to implement programmes that provide high-dose vitamin A supplements to children aged between six and 59 months for the short term.
In the long run, the researchers suggested reliable access to a myriad of fresh food, provision of food fortified with vitamins and minerals, implementation of food distribution programmes and development of the horticulture scene.
“Many countries have successfully integrated strategies to deliver vitamin A supplements to infants and children in their national health policies, including delivery during routine health visits and immunisations. Vitamin A supplement is a key strategy and the most important supplement among young children in Afghanistan.
“It is better to use wheat flour fortification and vitamin A capsule supplementation, besides providing nutrition education and training primary healthcare workers to prevent and treat vitamin A deficiency among the children in Afghanistan,” concluded the researchers.
Source: Food Therapy and Health Care
“Vitamin A supplement: a key strategy to prevent vitamin A deficiency among young children in Afghanistan”
Authors: Ahmad Mujtaba Barekzai et al.