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Vitamin A Does Not Improve Maternal, Infant Health, Study Finds

Giving women vitamin A supplements does not reduce maternal death rates or improve the health of infants, according to a study published Tuesday in the Lancet, the New York Times reports.

The Lancet study contradicts “an earlier study in Nepal that showed a huge drop in deaths among child-bearing women taking vitamin A, and disappointed experts who hoped pills could be a cheap, easy lifesaver,” the newspaper writes. Additionally, previous studies, dating back to the 1980s, have demonstrated that “giving vitamin A to malnourished children prevented stunting and deaths from measles and diarrhea,” the newspaper adds (McNeil, 5/3).

For the Lancet study, which included close to 208,000 women living in Ghana between the ages of 15 and 45, researchers supplied half of the women with a weekly low dose of vitamin A and compared their health outcomes with those who had received a placebo, Reuters reports.

In contrast with the findings of the Nepal trial, which found maternal deaths among women receiving vitamin A dropped 44 percent, the most recent “trial results showed there were 39,601 pregnancies and 138 pregnancy-related deaths among those who took vitamin A supplements, and 39,234 pregnancies and 148 pregnancy-related deaths in the placebo group – a difference that is not statistically significant,” the news service writes. “The Ghana study also found that giving vitamin A to women had no effect on the rate of stillbirths, or neonatal and infant survival – results which echoed those of the Nepal trial.”

“Research is as important to identify potentially good ideas that do not work, as it is in establishing those that do,” lead study author Betty Kirkwood, a nutrition and public health specialist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, wrote, according to Reuters. “This avoids governments wasting resources on ineffective interventions” (Kelland, 4/28).

Save The Children Releases Annual Index Ranking Best, Worst Places To Be A Mom

In related news, McClatchy-Tribune/Kansas City Star examines the results of the Save the Children’s 11th annual Mother’s Index, a ranking of the “best and worst places to be a mother,” which was released on Monday. Top ranking countries to be a mother include Australia, Iceland and Sweden; Afghanistan, Niger and Chad among the lowest ranking countries for mothers (Leninger, 5/3).

The Index includes “160 countries – 43 developed and 117 developing ones – and analyzes the best and worst places to be a mother based on 10 factors such as the educational status, health, economic circumstances and politics of the mothers, as well as the basic well-being of children,” EFE/Latin American Herald Tribune reports (5/4).

McClatchy-Tribune/Kansas City Star continues: Compared to Norway, where “[s]killed health personnel are present at virtually every birth … Fewer than 15 percent of births are attended by skilled health personnel in Afghanistan and Chad,” the news service writes. “One woman in seven dies in pregnancy or childbirth in Niger. The risk is one in eight in Afghanistan and Sierra Leone. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, Greece and Italy, the risk of maternal death is less than 1 in 25,000 and in Ireland it is less than 1 in 47,600” (5/3).

IRIN, also reporting on the Mother’s Index, notes “eight of the bottom 10-ranked countries … are in sub-Saharan Africa.”

“The problems around maternal and newborn health have been raised for many years, but there still remains so much to be done,” Houleyemata Diarra, Save the Children’s newborn health regional adviser for Africa, said, according to IRIN. “There are not enough skilled attendants at births, and governments are not taking into account where health workers are needed – in communities” (5/4).

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.