Dietary Vitamin A Supplements Improve Maternal Survival In South Asia

In a field trial in 270 villages in rural Nepal, researchers from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health showed that women had their risk of death from pregnancy lowered by about 40 percent after taking dietary supplements of vitamin A or beta-carotene, compared to women who did not take the supplements. The vitamin A study appeared in the February 28, 1999 issue of British Medical Journal.

Women suffer a high risk of death during and following pregnancy in rural South Asia, with mortality rates often 50 to 100 times higher than in industrialized countries. Death usually results from severe bleeding, obstructed labor, infection, and other causes. Malnutrition, especially vitamin A deficiency, also plays a critical role.

"This study suggests that the risk of maternal mortality in vitamin A deficient populations could be markedly lowered with only modest increases in vitamin A intake," said lead author Keith West, DrPH, professor, International Health, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. He added that concern about maternal vitamin A deficiency has focused almost entirely on its effects on fetal and infant health and survival. Little attention has been given to the potential health and survival consequences for the mother.

The scientists carried out the field trial among married women of child-bearing age in the southeast plains of Nepal, where medical, prenatal and obstetric care are practically non-existent and 97 percent of all births occur in the home. Night blindness, a condition that is attributed to vitamin A deficiency, often occurs in ten percent or more of women during pregnancy. The trial was reviewed and approved by the Nepal Health Research Council in Kathmandu, the Joint Committee on Clinical Investigation at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and the (International) Teratology Society. Villages were randomly assigned for women to receive weekly supplements containing recommended dietary amoun

Contact: Kathy Moore
Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health

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