Even mild to moderate vitamin A deficiency is now recognized as an important factor in child health and survival. This has given increased emphasis to the goal of virtually eliminating vitamin A deficiency and its consequences, including blindness, by the end of the decade. The implications of vitamin A deficiency, however, vary according to the group at risk, and this needs to be addressed when looking at ways to achieve the goal. In pre-school children, vitamin A deficiency can lead to increased risk of mortality and morbidity and to blindness. In pregnant and lactating women, it can lead to night-blindness and appears to have implications for maternal morbidity and mortality. Although the immediate health consequences for schoolchildren and adolescents are not completely known, they are probably less dramatic. Nevertheless, it is clear that there is a cross-generational cycle leading to and perpetuating vitamin A deficiency in affected communities. This also has implications when addressing prevention and control strategies. The existing, somewhat successful approach has been to target children aged six months to six years; it is implicit that this criterion is used to measure progress towards the end-of-decade goals. A broader, complementary, life-cycle approach to vitamin A deficiency is now appropriate in many countries. There is increasing emphasis on such approaches, i.e., fortifying foods with vitamin A and improving the diet, which address the whole population at risk. A mix of interventions will give governments the chance to shift from a subsidized vitamin A capsule programme to more sustainable, non-subsidized, consumer-funded vitamin A interventions, although in an appreciable number of countries, supplementation with vitamin A will be a necessity for some years to come. Guidelines to assist governments in such transitions are a high priority.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Food Science
- Geography, Planning and Development
- Nutrition and Dietetics