UN report finds Sub-Saharan Africa improving on vitamin, mineral deficiencies

8 October 2004– Many countries in sub-Saharan Africa are fighting back in the battle against vitamin and mineral deficiencies, saving millions of people from death or illness through relatively cheap programmes, according to a report jointly authored by UN agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

The report finds that millions of other people, especially children, could be helped if the programmes and strategies - which include the universal salt iodization (USI) and giving vitamin A supplements to children - are extended to every country in Africa.

Some 25 nations in the region now reach 70 per cent or more of their children with one vitamin A capsule every year, and 11 have recently achieved much higher rates of iodized salt coverage, the report states.

Many governments are also adding iron and folic acid to wheat flour or fortifying staples such as sugar, margarine and cooking oils with vitamins and minerals.

UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Kul Gautum said Africa has an important opportunity to advance its human development in a relatively short space of time.

"We have the right strategies - food fortification, supplementation and basic nutritional education - and the right partnerships to implement them. The challenge is simply our will to reach out to every child," he said.

UNICEF is targeting vitamin and mineral deficiencies partly because it believes they could be a key factor in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the set of eight worldwide targets for eradicating extreme poverty and hunger and improving mortality rates by 2015.

Vitamin and mineral deficiencies have been estimated to cost sub-Saharan countries more than $2.3 billion every year in lost productivity. They can cause birth defects, anaemia, blindness and mental disabilities among other problems.

The report was prepared by UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD).