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Facts for Life

Nutrition and growth

Supporting Information

5.

Children need vitamin A to help resist illness, protect their eyesight and reduce the risk of death. Vitamin A can be found in many fruits and vegetables, red palm oil, eggs, dairy products, liver, fish, meat, fortified foods and breastmilk. In areas where vitamin A deficiency is common, high-dose vitamin A supplements can also be given every four to six months to children aged 6 months to 5 years.

Until infants are 6 months old, breastmilk is the main source of vitamin A, provided the mother has enough vitamin A from her diet or supplements. Children aged 6 months to 5 years can get vitamin A from a variety of other foods, such as liver, eggs, dairy products, fatty fish, red palm oil, ripe mangoes and papayas, oranges, yellow sweet potatoes, dark green leafy vegetables and carrots.

When children do not have enough vitamin A they are less able to fight potentially fatal diseases and are at risk of night blindness. A child who has difficulty seeing in the early evening and at night is probably deficient in vitamin A. The child should be taken to a trained health worker for treatment with high-dose vitamin A supplements.

In a few countries, vitamin A has been added to cooking oils, sugar, wheat and flours, milk and dairy products, and other foods. In many countries where vitamin A deficiency is widespread and children often die from illnesses such as diarrhoea and measles, vitamin A is distributed twice a year to children 6 months to 5 years of age in a high-dose capsule or syrup.

Diarrhoea and measles deplete vitamin A from the child's body. A child with diarrhoea lasting several days or with measles, or who is severely malnourished, should be treated with high-dose vitamin A supplements obtained from a trained health worker.

In areas where it is known or suspected that children suffer from vitamin A deficiency, those children with diarrhoea should be given a vitamin A supplement if they have not received one within the past month, or if they are not already receiving vitamin A at regular four to six month intervals.

Children with measles should receive vitamin A on the day of diagnosis, a dose on the following day and another dose at least two weeks later.

Zinc (tablet or syrup) can also be given for 10–14 days to reduce the severity and the duration of the diarrhoea as well as protect the child for up to two months from future diarrhoea episodes. The dosage for children over 6 months of age is 20 milligrams per day, for children under 6 months of age it is 10 milligrams per day.