A new report by AED Center for Nutrition and the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) for the Food and Nutrition Bulletin shows that while cost-effective interventions to reduce vitamin and mineral deficiencies have existed for more than 20 years, significant micronutrient deficiencies still plague many countries, increasing maternal and child mortality and slowing brain development in children.
The report offers a comprehensive strategy to address the problem, including increased use of food supplementation and fortification.
"Vitamin and Mineral Deficiencies: A Report for the Ten Year Strategy for the Reduction of Vitamin and Mineral Deficiencies" reveals that:
- vitamin A deficiency is a public health problem in 118 countries;
- anemia caused by iron deficiency affects over two-thirds of all pregnant women and young children in many countries, such as India;
- iodine deficiency affects more than 740 million people or 13% of the world's population;
- 20% of the world's population is at risk of zinc deficiency; and
- folic acid deficiency is widespread even in developed countries.
The report will be discussed at the global Micronutrient Forum being held in Istanbul from April 16-18, 2007 to bring together more than 700 representatives from major global organizations, businesses and the health and nutrition sector.
"Millions of people are still affected by malnutrition, despite the availability of proven, cost-effective interventions," said AED Vice President Jean Baker, one of the authors of the report. "We hope this report spurs action to significantly reduce rates of malnutrition around the world."
"Time is short for those suffering malnutrition, and the damage wrought by vitamin and mineral deficiencies can be lifelong," said Marc Van Ameringen, executive director of GAIN.
The report summarizes the current technical information about vitamin and mineral deficiencies, details success stories from countries that reduced the deficiencies, and identifies gaps in data and programs. It recommends a global ten year strategy to reduce vitamin and mineral deficiencies comprised of eight key actions:
- Focus first on specific regions and countries that have the greatest number and highest prevalence of persons with vitamin and mineral deficiencies, starting with the countries in which the potential is high for rapid impact.
- Build intervention packages around the two proven core intervention approaches - supplementation and fortification - recognizing that people obtain micronutrients through multiple channels. Provide for adequate monitoring of safety issues.
- Aim to fulfill the needs of women of reproductive age, the very young, and the very poor first. Include health interventions that affect vitamin and mineral deficiencies in the package of services for these groups; and link with food security and other food interventions as needed.
- Expand coverage using district-wide approaches for supplementation and strategies such as intensified outreach and social mobilization to assure coverage of marginalized communities. Identify special delivery channels for the urban poor, possibly through the commercial private sector.
- Build country capacity for the long-term institutionalization of effective strategies; for example, within decentralized district health plans and as part of public-private partnerships.
- Support government entities in harnessing private sector expertise, market channels, and interest in contributing to social objectives.
- Strengthen the country databases and diagnostics for developing best intervention mixes to guide policy and program choices. Track trends in consumer demand for micronutrient-rich foods and potential food vehicles for fortification.
- Explore in more detail the modus operandi of key institutions to facilitate international support for micronutrient programs. Expand support to recipient countries and form an effective coordination mechanism.
"Food fortification and supplementation have proved successful in diverse settings, and promising new approaches such as bio-fortification are emerging," said Tina Sanghvi of AED, one of the report's authors.
Visit http://www.aed.org/ToolsandPublications/upload/FoodNutritionBulletin_v28n1.pdf to access the report.