Vitamin A deficiency is a serious public health problem in much of the developing world, particularly in Africa and South East Asia. In these regions, the daily per capita intake is often insufficient to meet dietary requirements.
The development and dissemination of highly-nutritional, biofortified crop varieties has lagged behind that of more developed countries. This lack of access to vitamin rich fruits and vegetables, combined with high poverty levels, poor health practices, and lack of education to effectively prevent infections and diseases, has contributed to high rates of vitamin A deficiency.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 250 million pre-school children are vitamin A deficient and it is likely that in vitamin A deficient areas a substantial proportion of pregnant women is vitamin A deficient.
In addition to causing premature blindness, vitamin A deficiency compromises the immune system, and can increase the risk of illness and death from diseases such as malaria, diarrhea and measles.
Each year, it is estimated that up to 500,000 children go blind as a result vitamin A deficiency. Half of them die within twelve months of going blind.
Supplying adequate vitamin A in high-risk areas can significantly reduce mortality. Conversely, its absence causes a needlessly high risk of disease and death.
Helen Keller International promotes biofortification as a promising tool in a multi-pronged strategy for combatting vitamin A and other micronutrient deficiencies in the developing world.
Biofortification is a method of fortifying food by breeding crops to increase their nutritional value, either through conventional selective breeding, or through genetic engineering. It is a common method used by home and community gardeners in developed nations to grow tomatoes and other popular foods.
Helen Keller International programs encourage acceptance and consumption among growers and consumers of fortified plant varieties such as orange-fleshed sweetpotatoes, which are rich in vitamin A and other nutrients, offer high yield and adoption rates, and can thrive in a variety of growing conditions.
Working with local partners, Helen Keller International develops behavior change marketing campaigns that have resulted in improved vitamin A intake among targeted populations.
Biofortification is just one part of Helen Keller International’s multi-program approach to combatting vitamin A deficiency.
As part of our ongoing commitment to identifying effective, proven solutions to combatting vitamin A deficiency, HKI will serve as an independent evaluator to determine whether consumption of Golden Rice improves vitamin A status. However, that evaluation would only take place if the product is approved by national regulators and deemed safe for human consumption.