SEATTLE, Washington — In Guatemala, a young mother of two, Carolina, received news that impacted her entire village. They no longer had to worry about the negative health impacts of childhood malnutrition and vitamin deficiencies. After years of disease, Carolina now had the resources necessary to protect her children’s health as well as her own. Since Vitamin Angels provides nutritional support, Carolina’s village and hundreds more in more than 70 countries receive the vitamins needed to combat malnutrition in developing countries.
The California-based organization Vitamin Angels has been dedicated to the eradication of childhood vitamin deficiencies since its creation in 1994. Founder and President Howard Schiffer described Vitamin Angel’s role in that elimination as giving “children and mothers the chance to lead meaningful, healthy and productive lives,” something they will miss if malnutrition across the world is not eradicated. To help end malnutrition throughout the developed and developing world, Vitamin Angels provides nutritional support, mainly Vitamin A, to those in need.
Vitamin A Deficiencies and Childhood Malnutrition
Currently, vitamin deficiency-based malnutrition or undernutrition impacts one in nine people throughout the world. Of these people, 149 million are children under the age of five, much like Carolina’s own children. It is well-known that vitamin deficiencies can have severe negative impacts on children and adolescents. In the case of Vitamin A, those deficiencies can cause blindness and can increase the risks of developing and dying from common childhood infections such as those of the eyes, ears and lungs.
One cause of widespread malnutrition in developing countries is the use of staple crops like rice or corn as the primary food source. While those crops are easy to grow in abundance, they lack the nutritional properties necessary to prevent vitamin deficiencies. However, cultivating diverse crops is a luxury that many nations do not have. Producing a variety of crops is expensive and labor-intensive.
For many communities, the only substitute for foods containing essential nutrients are supplements that are often unavailable in developing countries. In response, Vitamin Angels provides nutritional support in the form of oral drops and other vitamin supplements. According to Vitamin Angels, children need two doses of Vitamin A per year until the age of five. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends this highly concentrated dose of Vitamin A in young children, since the liver stores Vitamin A and it can be slowly delivered throughout the body as needed.
Need for Prenatal Vitamin A Supplements
Although people receive most of their Vitamin A from food, a child’s development is typically kickstarted by Vitamin A in utero. This later comes in the form of breastmilk once the child is born. However, if a pregnant mother does not have enough Vitamin A in her body during her pregnancy, her child could be born with short stature or eye and respiratory defects. Vitamin Angels also provides nutritional support in the form of prenatal supplements to mitigate the adverse effects of Vitamin A deficiencies in pregnant women. Instead of just having Vitamin A, these supplements contain numerous vitamins and minerals to ensure proper prenatal development. By 2030, Vitamin Angels hopes to distribute prenatal supplements to 50 million women throughout the world.
Vitamin Angels Provides Nutritional Supplements During COVID-19
As COVID-19 continues to spread, the pandemic’s impacts are limiting access to nutritious food in developing countries. To prevent the spread of the virus, many countries have shut down trade with outside nations. These restrictions severely impact the kinds of food people can eat. The subsequent lack of Vitamin A can prove deadly during a pandemic. It is especially deadly in countries that primarily grow staple crops and are more susceptible to vitamin deficiencies. Vitamin A enriches a child’s immune system and prevents viral and bacterial infections. A deficiency can diminish their body’s immune response to COVID-19, potentially leading to severe complications or even death.
Despite the risks associated with international travel during the pandemic, Vitamin Angels continues to provide supplements to those in need. This year, the organization is anticipating a greater need for nutritional support to combat the food insecurities COVID-19 has caused. Thus, their volunteers are prepping Vitamin A and prenatal supplements to accommodate the increased need. At the same time, Vitamin Angels is making E-learning software to educate their partners and volunteers on how to distribute supplements to mothers and children in need.
Alongside the software, the organization is also developing a mobile app to continuously update volunteers with new information. As a result, more communities can experience the joy Carolina did when she knew her children would remain healthy.
– Sarah Licht