Vitamin A is essential to the immune system. The supplements increase children`s resistance to disease, as well as improving their chances for survival, growth and development. But it is the reality that our food generally is deficient in essential nutrients. Also, the rate of various infections among our children is very high. These contribute to high child mortality and morbidity in Bangladesh.
Another factor is night blindness- a sign of severe malnutrition among children. Night blindness in 1 percent or more children is considered a serious national health problem.
In a low nutrition and high infection society, our children need to be protected against death and diseases through supplementation of extra nutrition and protection.
Improving the vitamin A status of children increases their chances of survival, cutting measles fatalities by up to 50 percent, diarrhoea fatalities by 40 percent and overall mortality by 25 percent, according to UNICEF.
Bangladesh conducts two vitamin A supplementation campaigns each year, with the first one `The National Vitamin A Plus Campaign-2015` is being held across the country today (April 25) with a view to preventing childhood blindness, reducing child mortality rate and strengthening immunity.
Over 2.15 crore children are being fed vitamin A capsule today across the country to protect them from night-blindness and strengthen their immune system, according to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare sources.
Under the campaign, the children aged between six months and 11 months are being given vitamin-A Plus capsule with blue color while the children aged between 12 and 59 months are being administered vitamin-A Plus with red color.
Around four lakh volunteers in assistance of government and non-government organisations are taking part in the campaign to successfully feed children vitamin capsules from permanent 1.20 lakh centres from 8am to 4pm today. Besides, some 20, 000 mobile centres are opened at bus stands, launch terminals and railway stations and airports.
On the occasion, a health message on home-made balanced diets have been disseminated among the people to encourage them to feed their children if they are aged six months.
According to Health Bulletin-2013, an annual publication by the Management Information System (MIS) of the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), Bangladesh has already met the target of reducing under-five mortality rate: against the target of achieving 48 per 1,000 live births in 2015, it has already achieved 44 per 1,000 live births in 2011. The target of reducing the infant mortality rate is also on track.
Bangladesh has reduced the mortality rate for children below the age of five by 71%, exceeding the Millennium Development Goal (MDG)-2015 target of 66% reduction.
According to UNICEF`s State of the World`s Children 2007 report, Bangladesh ranked 55 out of 190 (where one is the worst) in the world in child mortality rates. The infant (under-one) mortality rate in 2006 was 52 per 1,000 live births, and under-five rate was 69 per 1,000 live births. Bangladesh had three measures of high child malnutrition, including wasting (too thin) at 11.4 percent, stunting (low height for age) at 39.3 percent and underweight (low weight for age) at 46 percent, a 2005 HKI survey stated.
But due to different steps, Bangladesh has achieved a huge success in improving health conditions. The successful programs for immunization, control of diarrhoeal diseases and Vitamin A supplementation are considered to be the most significant contributors to the decline in child and infant deaths along with potential effect of overall economic and social development.
According sources, in 1982, 3.76 per cent children suffered from blindness for vitamin A deficiency and only 0.04 per cent children now suffer blindness problem. It is possible to cut 25 percent child mortality from the country through successful implementation of the heath programs.
Despite these improvements, there are challenges ahead. While the mortality rates have improved, major inequalities among the population still need to be addressed. Childhood injuries, especially drowning, have emerged as a considerable public health problem responsible for a full quarter of the deaths among children from one to four years of age.
There is a survey that if the Vitamin A Plus Campaign is withdrawn now, chances are that severe child malnutrition might begin to revive to rates of 20 years ago, an UNICEF official said.
So, all guardians should be aware of Vitamin A Plus Campaign and bring their children in centres to feed capsules, avoiding the tendency to believe in propaganda by a vested quarter that the children may die after taking the capsule.