Trends and mortality effects of vitamin A deficiency in children in 138 low-income and middle-income countries between 1991 and 2013: a pooled analysis of population-based surveys

Gretchen A Stevens, James E Bennett, Quentin Hennocq, Yuan Lu, Luz Maria De-Regil, Lisa Rogers, Goodarz Danaei, Guangquan Li, Richard A White, Seth R Flaxman, Sean-Patrick Oehrle, Mariel M Finucane, Ramiro Guerrero, Zulfiqar A Bhutta, Amarilis Then-Paulino, Wafaie Fawzi, Robert E Black, Majid Ezzati

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Abstract

Background - Vitamin A deficiency is a risk factor for blindness and for mortality from measles and diarrhoea in children aged 6–59 months. We aimed to estimate trends in the prevalence of vitamin A deficiency between 1991 and 2013 and its mortality burden in low-income and middle-income countries.Methods - We collated 134 population-representative data sources from 83 countries with measured serum retinol concentration data. We used a Bayesian hierarchical model to estimate the prevalence of vitamin A deficiency, defined as a serum retinol concentration lower than 0·70 μmol/L. We estimated the relative risks (RRs) for the effects of vitamin A deficiency on mortality from measles and diarrhoea by pooling effect sizes from randomised trials of vitamin A supplementation. We used information about prevalences of deficiency, RRs, and number of cause-specific child deaths to estimate deaths attributable to vitamin A deficiency. All analyses included a systematic quantification of uncertainty.Findings - In 1991, 39% (95% credible interval 27–52) of children aged 6–59 months in low-income and middle-income countries were vitamin A deficient. In 2013, the prevalence of deficiency was 29% (17–42; posterior probability [PP] of being a true decline=0·81). Vitamin A deficiency significantly declined in east and southeast Asia and Oceania from 42% (19–70) to 6% (1–16; PP>0·99); a decline in Latin America and the Caribbean from 21% (11–33) to 11% (4–23; PP=0·89) also occurred. In 2013, the prevalence of deficiency was highest in sub-Saharan Africa (48%; 25–75) and south Asia (44%; 13–79). 94 500 (54 200–146 800) deaths from diarrhoea and 11 200 (4300–20 500) deaths from measles were attributable to vitamin A deficiency in 2013, which accounted for 1·7% (1·0–2·6) of all deaths in children younger than 5 years in low-income and middle-income countries. More than 95% of these deaths occurred in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia.Interpretation - Vitamin A deficiency remains prevalent in south Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Deaths attributable to this deficiency have decreased over time worldwide, and have been almost eliminated in regions other than south Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. This new evidence for both prevalence and absolute burden of vitamin A deficiency should be used to reconsider, and possibly revise, the list of priority countries for high-dose vitamin A supplementation such that a country's priority status takes into account both the prevalence of deficiency and the expected mortality benefits of supplementation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e528-e536
Number of pages9
JournalThe Lancet Global Health
Volume3
Issue number9
Early online date28 Aug 2015
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2015
Externally publishedYes

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