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Vitamin A Supplements Can Reduce Malaria Cases In Children By One-Third, Study Finds

In malaria-endemic areas, vitamin A supplements – which cost about 2 U.S. cents each – can help reduce infections in children by one-third, according to a study published in the Malaria Journal, IRIN reports. The study analyzed results from previous studies conducted in Burkina Faso, Ghana and Papua New Guinea since 1995. It found that vitamin A supplements decreased malaria cases by one-third in Papua New Guinea and Burkina Faso.

Peter Olumese of the WHO’s Global Malaria Programme said although the relationship between vitamin A deficiency and malaria requires more research, it is clear that vitamin A supplements help to prevent a range of infectious diseases in children. “We do not need to wait for all the answers,” Olumese said. “While waiting on results [of further studies into the link], vitamin A supplements can be used to decrease morbidity and mortality in children, including those at risk of malaria.”

According to the WHO, children younger than age five in Africa and Southeast Asia had the highest levels of vitamin A deficiency between 1995 and 2005. UNICEF estimates it reaches 70 percent of children worldwide at risk of vitamin A deficiency with supplements twice a year. But that means that one-third of children might not receive the minimum amount, Olumese said.

“Vitamin A supplement programming is often run as a donor-funded project and is not tied in with national child health programmes. When donors leave, so do the vitamin A supplements,” he said.

In addition, government health budgets rarely allocate sufficient funds for nutrients, said Banda Ndiaye of the non-profit Micronutrient Initiative, which helps governments carry out twice-yearly micronutrient campaigns. “Resource allocation is very competitive and the basis of allocation may have as much to do with which constituency has more influence [rather] than what is needed most.”

“At a 2008 malnutrition conference hosted by the Copenhagen Consensus Center, economists calculated that an annual $60-million investment in micronutrients, especially vitamin A and zinc, would yield annual benefits of more than $1 billion, including health care cost savings,” IRIN writes (IRIN 6/25). 

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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.