Vitamin A deficiency: Diverse causes, diverse solutions

[img_assist|nid=179|title=|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=100|height=43]Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) affects about 40% of the world population. Many of those affected from vitamin and mineral deficiencies (VMD) appear to have enough to eat but still regularly miss vitamins and micronutrients such as iron, iodine or calcium in their diet. VAD especially affects small children and pregnant or breastfeeding mothers, resulting in higher suspectibility to other diseases and irreversible blindness. VAD can be combated with a variety of food and medicine-based approaches, including house gardens, increased food diversity, food fortification and medical vitamin A supplementation. Promising results come from countries such as Bangladesh, Indonesia, Vietnam, Nepal and the Philippines, where the irreversible blindness of children could be eliminated.

Nationwide supplemenation programmes combined to supplement children once or twice a year with high-doses of vitamin A are combined in at least 34 countries with National Immunisation Days. They are a key factor in reducing VAD on an acute basis, but on the long term, well-designed home garden programmes, including education for a more diverse diet, are the most sustainable way to reduce VAD and other VMDs on the household level. Once the home gardens are established, they provide sustainable, all-year-round availability of diverse food. Home gardens and small-scale animal production have proven to improve the vitamin A-status of mothers and children, even on very small pieces of in landless households.
The goal of combating VAD is not to provide medical treatment, it is to avoid VAD and other VMDs. By combating VAD with home gardens, sustainable systems are created that provide food security and diversity from the grassroots level in a way that is empowering women and that protects agro-biodiversity.