Grey Mist Lifting

A Weekly Blog About Lives Changed Through Eye Care

Lynne Dulaney, Director of Communications

Vitamin A: A precious commodity


Eggs, milk, butter, carrots and green leafy vegetables are all rich in vitamin A. In developing countries, where milk and eggs are not a major part of the average diet, millions of people suffer from vitamin A deficiency.

Eggs, milk, butter, carrots and green leafy vegetables are all rich in vitamin A. In developing countries, where milk and eggs are not a major part of the average diet, millions of people suffer from vitamin A deficiency.

Remember taking Flintstones Complete vitamins as a kid? And I’m sure you’ve seen those princess and superhero vitamin gummies you can buy for children nowadays.

We Canadians have convenient access to inexpensive multivitamins; it can be easy to take those gummies or capsules we give our kids every morning for granted.

As parents, we understand that healthy and nutritious foods are important to a child’s mental and physical development. For the most part, our children are fortunate enough to consume sufficient amounts of vitamins and nutrients through their diet.

Yet millions of children in developing countries suffer from malnutrition, their diets lacking several essential vitamins – particularly vitamin A, which is needed to promote good eye health. An estimated 190 million children under the age of five suffer from vitamin A deficiency (VAD).

VAD is the leading cause of preventable blindness in children in developing countries. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that up to 500,000 children go blind each year as a result of this condition. Sadly, half of those children die within 12 months of going blind.

Operation Eyesight is fighting to eliminate avoidable blindness in India, where a staggering 37 percent of the world’s vitamin A-deficient children reside. According to Government of India statistics provided to the WHO, 62 percent of all preschool-aged children in India do not get enough of the vitamin. But that figure can be reduced through the effective distribution of supplements.

The WHO recommends that children between the ages of six months and five years receive one dose of vitamin A every six months. Although the Indian government launched a supplementation program in the 1970s to implement this, program coverage has been dismal and an estimated one-third of eligible children will go unreached.

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Vitamin A does not come in a chewable form, but as liquid within a capsule. To administer, health workers cut a narrow tip in the capsule and drop the oil into the child’s mouth. The vitamin is then stored in the child’s liver and released as needed.

Through Operation Eyesight’s Hospital Based Community Eye Health projects in India, community health workers identify an average of 150 to 200 children per program with VAD. Health workers ensure that all children identified are referred to government service centres to receive doses of vitamin A.

In addition, Operation Eyesight works with our fellow international NGO, Vitamin Angels, to provide hospital partners with vitamin A capsules free of charge, and to reach out to remote communities where the government is not providing supplements.

Not only does vitamin A prevent childhood blindness, it also prevents repeated childhood infections, such as diarrhea, upper respiratory tract infections and post-measles infections, by improving a child’s immunity. With sufficient levels of vitamin A, a child’s survival rate increases by 24 percent.

The right vitamins and minerals can aid us in the fight to eliminate avoidable blindness and help children see a brighter future! We hope the next time you find yourself down the vitamin aisle at the drugstore or planning out your meals for the next day, you will pause and reflect on how fortunate we are to have this precious vitamin in our lives.

A baby receives crucial vitamin A supplementation from a community health worker. Photo by Peter Carrette

A baby receives crucial vitamin A supplementation from a community health worker.

We are keeping our eyes on another potential solution to VAD: a genetically engineered rice that helps combat blindness and death in children. You can read more about this crop here

Special thanks to our colleagues at Vitamin Angels for some of the material in this article.  

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