Vitamin A Deficiency
For people in the United States, Canada, Europe and other wealthy
countries, Vitamin A deficiency is relatively unknown. Our foods
are vitamin enriched, vitamin supplements are readily available,
and our diets contain green leafy and yellow vegetables that contain
ample amounts of vitamin A. On a global scale, this abundance is
sadly absent. Currently, 118 countries, primarily in Africa and
Southeast Asia, live with an epidemic of preventable blindness.
As with many diseases, the hardest toll is born by children.
A worldwide campaign is underway to eliminate Vitamin A deficiency.
Led by the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and many private organizations
such as Helen Keller Worldwide, Vitamin A is delivered to millions
of children to prevent blindness and to promote vision, bone growth,
and development of the immune system. Specially formulated capsules
in a dosage that would be toxic in our vitamin-rich diet are administered
once or twice a year usually at the same time a child is immunized.
Receiving the high dosage Vitamin A capsule prevents blindness and
bolsters the child's immune system.
These simple, high-benefit programs have produced remarkable results.
In some countries, mortality among children has been reduced by
23% and by up to 50% for children who are acute measles sufferers.
While long term solutions such as food fortification and home gardens
are needed to eliminate the cause of Vitamin A deficiency, high
dosage supplementation is extremely effective in reversing the tide
of childhood blindness.
The cost of a high dosage Vitamin A capsule is approximately 5
cents per child per year. Of course other costs are involved with
delivering the vitamins to children worldwide but it is easy to
see that small gestures of millions of people can make an important
and substantial difference in the eyes of the children of the world
and their families.
Vitamin A deficiency is the leading
cause of preventable blindness in children with an estimated
250,000 to 500,000 children-losing sight every year. Half
of these children will die within twelve months of going blind.
Every minute of every day of every year, one child goes blind
due to vitamin A deficiency.
In addition to causing blindness, Vitamin
A deficiency raises the risk of serious illness and even death
from common childhood infections such as measles and diarrhea.
The health impact on the 100 million to 140 million children
suffering from Vitamin A deficiency is immeasurable.