In the global fight against malnutrition, Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) emerges as a critical challenge linked to severe visual impairments and potentially preventable blindness, particularly among children and pregnant women in low-income countries. As the leading cause of preventable blindness in children, VAD underscores the urgent need for enhanced nutritional programs and awareness to safeguard eye health and general well-being.

Vitamin A deficiency and blindness: Addressing nutritional needs for optimal eye health (File Photo)

The World Health Organization estimates that every year, 250,000 to 500,000 children become blind as a result of Vitamin A deficiency, with the majority living in developing countries where access to adequate nutrition is often limited. In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Dr Kamal B Kapur, Co-Founder and Medical Director at Sharp Sight Eye Hospitals, revealed, “This deficiency can lead to xerophthalmia, a condition that can destroy the cornea (the anterior most transparent part of eye ) and conjunctiva, leading to irreversible blindness if not treated promptly.”

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Highlighting that addressing this public health issue requires a multifaceted approach, he shared, “Health experts advocate for the consumption of Vitamin A-rich foods, including dairy products, eggs, and yellow or orange fruits and vegetables, such as carrots and sweet potatoes, alongside green, leafy vegetables. Additionally, the fortification of staple foods with Vitamin A and the strategic distribution of supplements have been recognized as effective, low-cost methods to combat VAD and its devastating impacts on vision. Especially in children. Efforts by governments and international organizations to integrate Vitamin A supplementation These efforts include linking supplementation to routine immunization programs and maternal health services.”

Despite these advances, challenges remain in achieving universal access to adequate Vitamin A sources. Dr Kamal B Kapur suggested, “There is an increased need for investment in public health campaigns to raise awareness about the importance of a balanced diet and the critical role of Vitamin A in preventing blindness. The battle against Vitamin A deficiency and its impact on eye health highlights the broader issue of malnutrition and the need for comprehensive approach to ensure that vulnerable populations have access to essential nutrients. By prioritising nutritional needs and public health interventions, the global community can make significant strides toward preventing blindness caused by VAD and improving overall health outcomes.”

Bringing her expertise to the same, Dr Uma Malliah, Senior Consultant – Ophthalmology at Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals in New Delhi, said, “Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin required for several human activities, including vision, immune system function, and skin health. Vitamin A is an essential component of rhodopsin, a pigment present in the retina’s rod cells that is responsible for vision in low light. Vitamin A also helps to maintain the eye’s surface tissues and can help avoid problems like dry eye syndrome. This nutrient is vital for maintaining the health and function of the eye, including the cornea, retina, and photoreceptor cells. Without sufficient vitamin A intake, the body’s ability to create the pigments required for night vision and color perception is compromised, eventually leading to xerophthalmia, a disorder characterised by dry eyes, corneal ulcers, and potentially irreversible blindness.”

She recommended, “To address vitamin A insufficiency, a multimodal approach is required, including dietary diversification, staple food fortification, and tailored supplementation programs. Encourage the consumption of vitamin A-rich foods such as leafy green vegetables, carrots, sweet potatoes, and dairy products to ensure appropriate intake. Also , supplementing regularly consumed foods with vitamin A, such as wheat flour or cooking oil, can improve bioavailability and reach susceptible populations. Supplementation programs, especially for children and pregnant women, can help prevent and treat vitamin A deficiency, lowering the risk of blindness and improving general eye health.”

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