Globally, it is estimated that 190 million children under five years of age are affected by vitamin A deficiency1. These children suffer an increased risk of visual impairment (night blindness), illness and death from childhood infections such as measles and those causing diarrhoea. The fourth Millennium Development Goal is to reduce by two thirds the mortality rate among children under five years of age by 2015. Vitamin A supplementation (VAS) is an important component of the strategies required to reach this goal.
Provision of vitamin A supplements every four to six months is an inexpensive, quick, and effective way to improve vitamin A status and reduce child morbidity and mortality in the long term. Comprehensive control of vitamin A deficiency should include dietary improvement and food fortification may need to be considered. In areas where vitamin A deficiency is a public health problem, vitamin A supplementation is recommended in infants and children 6-59 months of age as a public health intervention to reduce child morbidity and mortality2.
Combining the administration of vitamin A supplements with immunization services is an important part of the effort to eliminate vitamin A deficiency and save lives. WHO advocates the routine administration of vitamin A with vaccination in countries where vitamin A deficiency is a public health problem. Millions of children have received vitamin A through National Immunization Days (NIDs) to eradicate poliomyelitis. Vitamin A supplementation has been successfully linked with vaccination campaigns and routine immunization services in many countries. Providing high-dose supplementation to mothers at immunization contacts soon after delivery provides a further benefit to young infants through enriched breast milk.
(1) WHO. Global prevalence of vitamin A deficiency in populations at risk 1995-2005. WHO Global Database on Vitamin A Deficiency. Geneva, World Health Organization, 2009.
Accessed 18 October 2013.
(2) WHO. Guideline: Vitamin A supplementation in infants and children 6–59 months of age. Geneva, World Health Organization, 2011. Accessed 18 October 2013.