Vitamin A, long recognized as essential for healthy vision, also promotes bone growth and plays an active role in the formation of a child's healthy immune system.
But the World Health Organization (WHO) recently identified the key nutrient is lacking in millions of people's diets throughout the third world, and cites vitamin A deficiency (VAD) as the leading cause of preventable blindness in children.
It estimates 250m preschool children around the world have VAD, a condition linked to serious infections, preventable diseases and premature deaths in half of all sufferers.
It is likely that a substantial proportion of pregnant women are also VAD in these areas.
Now Vitamin Angels, the Santa Barbara-based non-profit organization, is calling on supplement companies to join its new campaign and donate money or basic nutritional supplements.
It aims to stamp out avoidable childhood blindness through VAD by 2020.
"This is an extremely attainable goal that will provide children around the world with the basic nutrients to keep their vision intact and a better chance to live a healthy, productive life," said Howard Schiffer, founder and president of Vitamin Angels.
The charity will work with existing WHO and UNICEF initiatives, offering outreach efforts to distribute the vitamin supplements to tens of millions of children currently living in abject poverty.
It estimates the one-off cost of preventing blindness to be just $1 per child.
Vitamin Angels also aims to help the victims of natural disasters, civil strife and war achieve better nutrition, and accepts donations of children's and adult's multivitamins, prenatal formulas, folic acid and vitamin C.
"Our secondary goal is to have every company within the natural products and pharmaceutical industries join Vitamin Angels by making a monetary or product donation that will provide a child with the supplementation needed to fight malnutrition linked diseases and other preventable illnesses," Schiffer said.
GNC, Solgar, Jarrow and Boiron USA have already donated, and previous campaigns have benefited those affected by Hurrican Katrina, and victims of the 2004 Asian tsunami.
Currently more than two billion people are suffering from vitamin and mineral deficiency, says the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN). This type of malnutrition is causing birth defects, mental retardation, poor immune systems, blindness and death.