The initiative, which was announced recently, is focused on the critical first 1,000 days of life, which encompasses the time from conception through the first two years of life. Vitamin Angels and its founder Howard Schiffer first started on this mission in 1994 by seeking to get a single critical megadose of vitamin A into young children after research showed this one intervention could foster healthy vision development and forestall future problems.
The mission has since expanded through partnerships like the one with Bayer into addressing a broad array of vitamin and mineral deficiencies that affect mothers and newborns alike. Neonatal deficiencies can result in a host of issues beyond vision problems such as stunted growth and cognitive delays. The value of the Bayer partnership, listed under the Bayer prenatal brand Elevit, is pegged at more than $4 million.
Mothers and babies most at risk
Mother and babies in underserved regions of the world are most at risk. According to Bayer, almost 50% of young women and adolescent girls in low- and middle-income countries have inadequate vitamin and mineral intake and at least half of children worldwide under age 5 suffer from this deficiency. The consequences of vitamin and mineral deficiencies worsen gradually over time, resulting in significant health consequences across the lifespan and ultimately exacerbates the cycle of poverty.
.“As a leader and expert in supplemental nutrition, we know how important these nutrients are to help ensure health for all, particularly for vulnerable populations who need it most, like underserved women and children,” said Heiko Schipper, President of the Consumer Health Division of Bayer AG. “Having a healthy baby is a concern for every parent and parent-to-be everywhere around the world and through The Nutrient Gap Initiative, we plan on creating programs that will help give babies the best start in life today and for generations to come.”
The partnership will have three phases. The intervention portion of the effort will launch with a goal to reach up to 4 million underserved pregnant women with a Multiple Micronutrient Supplement (MMS). The goal will be to make taking the supplement a regular part of neonatal care in these communities. The program will roll out first in Indonesia, Mexico, the United States and Vietnam. Other countries will be added in the future.
The program will also include an education function. Bayer says it will develop a nutrition curriculum in cooperation with Vitamin Angels to better serve mothers and newborns in underserved communities. And it is partnering with a group called the White Ribbon Alliance, which has a focus on health care for mothers and infants as a basic human right.
Scaling intervention through NGO partnerships
And Bayer says it will work with leading NGOs in an effort to improve access to the MMS intervention. At the moment, only 70% of low- and middle-income communities have access to iron-folic acid (IFA) during pregnancy, which is no longer considered sufficient, based on recent World Health Organization guidelines. Bayer said it hopes these collaborations will help close this gap.
“As experts in prenatal nutrition, we know how critical access to the right nutrients before and during the first 1,000 days of life is to a mother’s health and a baby’s healthy growth, development, and long-term success. We expect this partnership to have a positive impact, helping millions of babies get the best start in life,” said Helena Habte-Gabr, global brand director of Elevit, a Bayer brand.