Revised February 2012 (306 Kb)
Gerard Barry talks about
Vitamin A Factsheet (pdf)
Many people in the developing world do not get enough vitamin A or beta carotene from the food they eat, contributing to the serious public health problem of vitamin A deficiency.
Young children need vitamin A
Vitamin A is an essential nutrient needed for the visual system, growth, development, and a healthy immune system. Everybody needs vitamin A to grow and thrive, particularly mothers and young children.
Vitamin A is found in animal products and breastmilk. Carotenoids are substances like beta carotene that the body converts into vitamin A. They are found in orange-colored fruits and vegetables and in dark-green leafy vegetables.
Vitamin A deficiency results from a lack of vitamin A in the diet. Vitamin A deficiency can also be caused by infections that reduce appetite or the body’s ability to absorb vitamin A.
Vitamin A deficiency can damage the immune system and decrease the body’s ability to resist or fight infections, therefore increasing the risk of mortality from common diseases, especially among young children. Vitamin A deficiency may also result in impaired vision, including night blindness (the inability to see at night or in dim light) and may result in permanent, partial, or total blindness if left untreated.
Providing adequate amounts of vitamin A, on the other hand, reduces overall child mortality by 23-34%.
Vitamin A deficiency is most prevalent among young children and pregnant and nursing women as they have increased nutrient requirements.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 190 million preschool children and 19 million pregnant women are vitamin A-deficient globally. Children with vitamin A deficiency are more likely to suffer from poor health and premature death. Each year, it is estimated that 670,000 children under the age of five die from vitamin A deficiency. Vitamin A deficiency is the number one cause of preventable blindness among children in developing countries – as many as 350,000 go blind every year.
The poor in the developing world, who live primarily on a diet of starchy staples that lack vital micronutrients like vitamin A (such as rice), are particularly vulnerable to vitamin A deficiency.
Asia has one of the highest prevalence of vitamin A deficiency in the world, with the most clinical cases found there. Vitamin A deficiency is still considered a public-health problem in many countries of Asia and 33.5% of pre-school children have vitamin A deficiency.
The WHO Global Database on Vitamin A Deficiency reports that:
Helen Keller International (HKI) is a leading global health organization that has been instrumental in reducing vitamin A deficiency. HKI's programs include:
"Considering that none of the current vitamin A interventions have universal coverage, it is best to use them in combination,” Ms. Nancy Haselow, HKI vice president and regional director for Asia-Pacific.
Vitamin A deficiency continues to adversely affect many people, especially the last 10-20% in the hardest-to-reach areas. In the Philippines, as in many developing countries, effective distribution systems for vitamin A supplementation are not in place to reach all people in need adequately and consistently so that the most vulnerable children and women in remote areas are often missed.
Because rice is widely produced and consumed, Golden Rice has the potential to reach many people, including those who do not have reliable access to or cannot afford other sources of vitamin A.
Golden Rice is intended to be used in combination with existing approaches to overcome vitamin A deficiency, including eating foods that are naturally high in vitamin A or beta carotene, eating foods fortified with vitamin A, taking vitamin A supplements, and optimal breastfeeding practices.
The body converts beta carotene in Golden Rice to vitamin A as it is needed. According to research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2009, daily consumption of a very modest amount of Golden Rice – about a cup (or around 150 g uncooked weight) – could supply 50% of the Recommended Daily Allowance of vitamin A for an adult.