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Global agencies call for more investment in life-saving vitamins and minerals

afrol News, 12 May - Seven of the world’s leading development agencies have made a call on governments and the global partners to demonstrate their commitments to children and families in developing countries by increasing investments in life-saving vitamins and minerals.

A new report, “Investing in the Future: A united call to action on vitamin and mineral deficiencies,” was released today detailing the scope of under-nutrition in the developing world due to a lack of vitamins and minerals. The report, released at the 2009 Micronutrient Forum in Beijing, also provides tangible recommendations to improve the delivery of supplements and fortified food and improve the health of women and children around the world.

The report was prepared by the Micronutrient Initiative, in partnership with the Flour Fortification Initiative, USAID, GAIN, WHO, The World Bank, and UNICEF, with support of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). It is the first time that the world’s leaders in developmental nutrition have come together to produce a joint call to action for increased investments in vitamins and minerals.

With the global economy in recession, it is the world’s most vulnerable citizens, especially children in developing nations, who struggle without access to the nutritious food they need, the partners have noted, statting that, as a result, millions of children and entire communities do not get enough iron, iodine, vitamin A, folic acid and zinc.

"They are at risk to illness, blindness, preventable mental disorders and, too often, death: vitamin A deficiency annually claims the lives of almost 670,000 children under five; iron deficiency anaemia during pregnancy is associated with 115,000 deaths each year, accounting for one fifth of total maternal deaths," a news release by the group said today, adding that, by providing these vitamins and minerals, also known as micronutrients, either through supplementation or food fortification, is a proven solution that costs just a few cents to save lives and help children grow healthy and strong.

The report calls for commitment, coordination and planning for increased micronutrient programming - held together by strong and durable partnerships. Key partners in micronutrient interventions include national governments, non-governmental organisations, donors, aid agencies, foundations, industry, community leaders, and the agricultural sector.

With the low cost of micronutrient interventions and the high returns, the report cited the benefit, pointing that the cost ratio of micronutrient programming is unmatched by any other large-scale health or economic intervention. It further stated that research by leading health economists has determined that every dollar spent on vitamin A and zinc supplementation programmes creates benefits worth more than $17.

The report also said as the global financial crisis unfolds, there are fewer donors offering less funding for developmental assistance, adding that it is critical now, more than ever that these investments yield the highest results.

Refering to examples of positive results where implementation has been made, the report however shows that significant gaps in coverage remain and continue to undermine children’s health and the progress of entire communities.

The report details the proven success that micronutrient programmes have had, saying what is needed now is the political will, along with sufficient resources and supplies to make sure that all children, especially those in the world’s poorest communities, have access to these life-saving micronutrients.

Amongst the recommendations in the report, it calls for scaling up the delivery of integrated health services, including twice yearly vitamin A supplementation for children between six months and five years, while governments should also enact mandatory legislation to ensure all salt is iodized and provide adequate resources to enforce this legislation.

The report also calls for the setting and monitoring national standards for food fortification programmes and the scaling up of availability of multiple micronutrient supplements, such as Sprinkles, for in-home use in specified regions, scaling up iron and folic acid supplements for all women of child bearing age, with a special focus on pregnant women and the incorporation of zinc supplementation into national diarrhoea management policy.

The report was released at the Micronutrient Forum being held in China on 12-15 May, which brings together the world's leaders working in micronutrient research and programming.

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