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Importance of vitamin A in children

With Kemi Olatunde
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Every child needs vitamins to develop well as they are needed for survival. Vitamins A, D, E and are referred to as fat soluble vitamins but Vitamin A is a very important vitamin in human.

In infants and children, vitamin A is essential to support rapid growth and to help combat infections. Inadequate intakes of vitamin A may lead to vitamin A deficiency which can cause visual impairment in the form of night blindness and may increase the risk of illness and death from childhood infections, including measles and those causing diarrhoea.

Vitamin A can be safely provided to children in a large dose, rather than more frequent smaller doses, as it can be stored by the body and released over time as needed.

According to a nutritionist at the Ondo State Primary Health Care Development Board, Mrs. Kikelomo Adejumo, vitamin A is crucial for the protection of eye sight that is it is for the proper functioning of the eye.

She said; “if a child falls short of vitamin A, it may be difficult for him/her to see in dim light a condition commonly called night blindness.

“Vitamin A also increases chances of survival. When children between 6 – 59 months receive it,  they are more likely to survive infection that is the risk of dying from diarhorea is reduced by about 28 percent while their overall risk of dying is reduced by 12 to 24 percent.

 “It reduces the severity of infection as it plays a very important role in the immune system because it is critical in assisting the body in resisting infection and diseases. It also help the body to decrease the severity and incidence of many childhood infections such as diarrhoea by 15 percent and measles by 50 percent.”

Speaking further she stated that it is also crucial for growth promotion that is their growth is very rapid, hence there is need for vitamin A for the development.

Vitamin A can be gotten from both animal and plant sources. A very good source is breastmilk which is very essential for newborn and infants.  No wonder that health workers always lay emphasis on mothers breastfeeding their babies exclusively for the first six months of babies’ life.

In this part of the world, it is observed that people especially the new generation mothers find it difficult to breastfeed their babies due to reasons best known to them.  Some are of the opinion that engaging in exclusive breastfeeding is stressful while others believe that a baby should not do without taking water alongside the breastmilk. This is due to ignorance on the part of these mothers, if only they know what their babies are missing, they will put aside all these side talks and face the reality of exclusive breastfeeding so as to enable their babies get all the requirements needed for the overall development of healthy children.

Also other sources according to Adejumo include milk fat,  butter,  cheese, liver and fish liver oil.

According to her,  it is also found in plant as carotenoids which are converted to Vitamin A in the body. A good source of caritenoids is dark leafy vegetables and it is also present in deeply coloured yellow and orange fruits like carrot.

Butressing the above points, Deputy Director, Medical Services, Indo State Primary Health Care Development Board, Dr. Tolu Ademujimi who stressed its importance for eye sight said “it is very good for the eyes and that is why we particularly give doses of vitamin A to children so that as they grow, their eyes can be developed properly.”

He listed sweet potatoes with the above sources of vitamin A and hinted that vegetables must not be overcooked so as to get the needed quantify of vitamin A  for children.

He explained that Ondo State has always ensure it gives vitamin A supplements to children so as to enable them have enough dose needed for their well-being.

He said;”For most children in the tropics, many of their parents are poor and they may not be able to get all these food items for their children due to poverty and that is why vitamin A capsule is given as part of the routine immunisation to children at nine months so as to have enough doses.

“Also, during the Maternal  Newborn and Child Health Week(MNCHW),  we make it a necessity to give it to under five children for free so as to have enough of it.

Many countries have successfully integrated strategies to deliver vitamin A supplements to infants and children in their national health policies, including delivery during routine health visits and immunizations.

 According to WHO recommendations

Newborn (1)

At the present time, neonatal vitamin A supplementation (that is, supplementation within the first 28 days after birth) is not recommended as a public health intervention to reduce infant morbidity and mortality.

Infants 1–5 months of age (2)

Vitamin A supplementation in infants 1–5 months of age is not recommended as a public health intervention for the reduction of morbidity and mortality.

Infants and children 6–59 months of age (3)

In settings where vitamin A deficiency is a public health problem (prevalence of night blindness is 1% or higher in children 24–59 months of age or where the prevalence of vitamin A deficiency (serum retinol 0.70 µmol/l or lower) is 20% or higher in infants and children 6–59 months of age), high-dose vitamin A supplementation is recommended in infants and children 6–59 months of age.

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