New Delhi: A study has suggested that children in low and middle-income countries should be given vitamin A supplements to prevent death and illness.
Vitamin A is an essential nutrient that must be obtained through diet. Vitamin A deficiency in children increases vulnerability to infections like diarrhoea and measles and may also lead to blindness.
A team of researchers based in the UK and Pakistan analysed the results of 43 trials of vitamin A supplementation involving over 200,000 children aged 6 months to 5 years.
Differences in study design and quality were taken into account to minimise bias.
They found vitamin A supplements reduced child mortality by 24 per cent in low and middle-income countries. It may also reduce mortality and disability by preventing measles, diarrhoea and vision problems, including night blindness.
The authors say that, if the risk of death for 190 million vitamin A deficient children were reduced by 24 per cent, over 600,000 lives would be saved each year and 20 million disability-adjusted life years (a measure of quantity and quality of life) would be gained.
Based on these results, the authors strongly recommend supplementation for children under 5 in areas at risk of vitamin A deficiency.
"The evidence for vitamin A is compelling and clear. Further trials comparing vitamin A with placebo would be unethical," they said.
The study has been published on bmj.