Dietary supplements where they are crucially needed

By Lorraine Heller

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Vitamin angels Nutrition

The nutraceutical industry’s charity Vitamin Angels has this year reached seven million children suffering from malnutrition around the world, but says more support is needed to consistently address malnourishment.

The group, which encourages and co-ordinates dietary supplement donations from the industry, today said it is “at an urgent impasse when it comes to providing nutrition to children in need worldwide”.

"Vitamin Angels is an intricate part of solving the worldwide hunger problem. This year, with the support of many concerned individuals and companies in the natural product industry we surpassed our goal of reaching 4.5 million children and were able to reach seven million,"​ said founder Howard Schiffer.

"But we can't stop here. Casting a wider net of awareness will not only elevate Vitamin Angels' impact but will bring us closer to solving the problem of malnourishment in children under the age of five."

Vitamin A and blindness

The charity is holding its annual Celebration of Angels fundraiser on October 16, at the Harvard Club in Boston, to coincide with the Natural Products Expo East.

It will be using the event to highlight progress in its Operation 20/20, an initiative launched three years ago with the aim of eradicating childhood blindness caused by vitamin A deficiency worldwide by the year 2020.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified vitamin A as lacking in millions of people's diets throughout the third world, especially in Africa and South-East Asia. Vitamin A deficiency (VAD), it said, is the leading cause of preventable blindness in children, yet it is thought to cause blindness in up to 500,000 children each year.

According to Vitamin Angels, one high-dose vitamin A capsule, given to a child twice a year for four years is enough to help prevent that child from going blind from VAD.

The cost of this minimal supplementation is only 25 cents per child, per year.

Vitamin Angels said that last year the United Nations Children's Fund recognized vitamin A as one of the key strategies responsible for cutting early childhood deaths to below 10 million per year, a "first" ​in modern history.

Everyone can help in malnutrition

The organization said it is the only nonprofit group solely dedicated to providing vital nutrition to those in need internationally and domestically.

Vitamin Angels was born 12 years ago, in the aftermath of the 1994 Northridge earthquake in Southern California. Schiffer told in an interview in 2006 that he had worked in the supplements industry for many years but his experience was in raw materials.

After being contacted by an aid agency working to prevent disease breaking out amongst the displaced migrant communities Schiffer facilitated the donation of vitamins, and made the acquaintance with Ellen Engleman, then of Direct Relief, who taught him what he needed to know about logistics. The charity aims to bring better nutrition through supplements to three main groups of people around the world: those affected by natural disasters; by war and endemic poverty; and suffering from malnutrition as a result of being poor.

In all of these situations, young children are the most vulnerable, he said.

In fact, 50 percent of deaths amongst under-fives are down to chronic malnutrition. It is not just about starvation, but if a child's immune system is depleted due to lack of nutrition it will not be able to withstand infections. As a result, common childhood diseases like measles can be fatal.

At present many children, from the day they are born, will never achieve their intellectual and structural capacity because of the nutritional deficit of their parents before they were even conceived.

"This is something we know the answer for. If we can put right the nutrition then it's going to make a difference."

For more information about Vitamin Angles or to make a donation, click here​.

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