7.2  Vitamin A, iodine and iron deficiencies in Ethiopia

Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) is a severe public health problem in Ethiopia affecting around 61% of children 6-59 months of age in the 11 regions of the country (DHS, 2005). The situation is probably worse in emergency affected areas. Clinical vitamin A deficiency, untreated can lead to childhood blindness and it is likely that vitamin A deficiency is one of the major contributing factors to the high under-five mortality rate of Ethiopia (174 per 1000, UNICEF).

Globally, 30% of the world’s population is affected with iodine deficiency disorder (IDD). In Ethiopia, one out of every 1000 people is affected and about 50,000 prenatal deaths occur yearly due to iodine deficiency disorder. As you read in Study Session 1, the rate of goitre (caused by iodine deficiency) in Ethiopia is at emergency levels according to WHO standards. This is in part because of the marked decrease in the amount of iodised salt being consumed in Ethiopian households compared with a decade ago. About 685,000 babies are born to mothers with IDD and as a result stand a risk of suffering from some degree of learning disability.

Anaemia is a widespread health problem affecting more than two billion people worldwide — one third of the world’s population. More than half (54%) of Ethiopian children age 6-9 months and 27 % of Ethiopian women aged 15-49 are anaemic (mainly due to low blood iron status).

The consequences of anaemia are multiple. Iron deficiency can delay muscular and nervous system development and mental performance, especially in preschool age children. In adults, anaemia reduces work capacity, mental performance and reduces tolerance to infections. Iron deficiency anaemia can also cause increased maternal mortality due to bleeding problems. Maternal anaemia can lead to prenatal infant loss, low birth weight, and pre-term births.

  • How could you find out if there are any people in your community with micronutrient deficiencies?

  • There are a number of potential sources of information you might have listed, for example you could:

    • Ask teachers if there are children who miss school (children with anaemia may be too tired to attend)
    • Ask family members if there are mothers and children who find it difficult to see after dusk and if children frequently get sick (possible signs of vitamin A deficiency)
    • Ask community leaders/families if there are any children/adolescents who have swelling in front neck area (goitre: a sign of iodine deficiency).

7.1  The importance of micronutrients

7.3  Rationale for action against vitamin A, iron and iodine deficiencies