Half of women and children in Somalia have ‘shocking levels’ of anaemia and Vitamin A deficiency, according to a study out today. Research lead by the Food Security Nutrition Analysis Unit (FSNAU-Somalia) found the country to have the worst rates of anaemia in Africa. It classed "50 per cent of women, 30 per cent of school-aged children and 60 per cent of children under five as anaemic". This compares with a rate of between two and 10 per cent in the US.
The results also found that one third of all children and half of adult women have Vitamin A deficiency. Anaemia in Somalia is caused by a range of factors said Grainne Moloney, of the Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit for Somalia (FSNAU,). These include frequent exposure to diseases which often go untreated, and eating a diet mostly based on cereals that lack key vitamins and minerals. “Although children may seem healthy as they are not very thin, these underlying deficiencies mean these children are still malnourished. The required nutrient rich foods, such as meat, eggs, fish, vegetables and fruits foods are often too expensive for poor households to buy and the problem is further exacerbated by inadequate health care and sanitation, disease and a lack of appropriate infant and young child feeding”, she added.
Iron deficiency anaemia is when there aren’t enough red blood cells because the body does not have enough iron to produce them. The main symptoms are tiredness and lack of energy. In children, it can delay both physical and intellectual growth, lead to a higher risk of infectious disease and an increased risk of death. In women, anaemia can lead to poor foetal development and birth complications during pregnancy, as well as an increased risk of infectious disease and death. But it can be treated by taking iron supplements to replace the missing iron in the body, or simply through good nutrition and good health for instance by eating iron-rich foods such as red meat.
Vitamin A deficiency is the leading cause of preventable blindness in children and increases the risk of disease and death from childhood diseases such as measles. In pregnant women lack of vitamin A causes night blindness and can up risk of maternal mortality. But research has shown that where a population is at risk of Vitamin A deficiency, such as Somalia, supplementation reduces mortality in children 6 month to 5 years of age by up to 23%.
The study, which ran between March and August last year was led by FSNAU with funding from the Swedish International Development Agency alongside University College London’s – Centre for International Child Health.