Combatting Vitamin A Deficiencies
A simple twice-yearly dose can reduce childhood mortality by nearly 25%.
Vitamin A is critical to children’s growing bodies and brains. It strengthens vision, prevents blindness, and builds children’s immune systems so that they are strong enough to fight “normal” childhood illnesses like diarrhea, measles, malaria, and pneumonia. These routine illnesses can quickly end a child’s life if they don’t have enough vitamin A. GiveWell attributes over 200,000 child deaths to vitamin A deficiencies every year.
In countries like the United States, vitamin A is a natural part of diets – in carrots, sweet potatoes, red meat, milk, egg yolks, and leafy greens. But for many families living in poverty around the world, these foods are not part of their regular diets. Sometimes they’re not available, and more often, they’re too expensive for families living without a safety net.
A simple, cost-effective solution
A single capsule of vitamin A given to children twice a year for the first five years of their lives can literally save their sight and lives. And it only costs a little more than $1 a dose.
Helen Keller Intl is at work in places where children’s health is most at risk and where families struggle to afford the nutrients their children need. Partnering with governments across Africa and Asia, we provide millions of children every year with lifesaving vitamin A and other nutrients. In places like Kenya, where typically only 20% of children consume diets containing enough vitamin A, we support whole communities through multiday events, reaching four times as many children. In countries like Senegal, we partner with the Ministry of Health, clinics, and community leaders to make vitamin A part of a child’s regular healthcare clinic visits. And in places like Nepal, we train community health workers who go door-to-door in remote villages to reach all the communities’ children. In 2023, we distributed more than 68 million capsules of vitamin A.
A pioneer since the beginning
Nearly half a century ago, research spearheaded by experts at Helen Keller helped demonstrate the profound impact vitamin A has on a young child. A study conducted with Dr. Alfred Sommer of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Helen Keller Intl (then known as the American Foundation for the Overseas Blind) found that vitamin A could both prevent blindness and decrease the risk of childhood mortality by nearly a third. This was a turning point for global public heath.
This single, low-cost solution became one of the most important breakthroughs of the 20th century and changed the course of Helen Keller’s work. Vitamin A supplementation and helping families grow and afford vitamin A rich foods became one of the most important and effective things we do around the world. As a result, GiveWell consistently ranks Helen Keller’s vitamin A work as one of the most cost-effective, high-impact treatments in the world and has named Helen Keller a “top charity.”
Ensuring vitamin A beyond capsules
Beyond helping children receive vitamin A supplementation, Helen Keller works at the system level to improve families’ access to vitamin A-rich foods.
- We help families grow nutrient-rich foods, like orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, in their home gardens.
- We work with producers to fortify commonly consumed food like cooking oil and flour with essential micronutrients like vitamin A.
- Our mother-to-mother groups provide safe spaces for women to get support and encouragement for breastfeeding, which provides vital nutrients – including vitamin A – to help their children grow up healthy and strong.
Micro but mighty
The positive impact of vitamin A is considerable: less blindness, fewer children dying of everyday illnesses, and robust health. This mighty micronutrient has the power to transform children’s lives, so that all have the chance to discover their true potential, as Helen did.
Your support is crucial to remove barriers to health, vision, and nutrition.