Editorial comment – Vitamin deficiency

High quality food. Picture: SUPPLIED

THE revelation that children in Fiji are at risk of contracting severe diseases and even death because of a deficiency in vitamin A is worrying. The fact that it is caused by poor diet is a major concern.

The revelation was made by National Iron and Multivitamins Supplementation program officer, Kiti Sorovaki. Research, she said, showed that a significant proportion of Fiji’s population — mainly children — are not taking the recommended amount of vitamin A.

Vitamin A deficiency, she said, occurred in adverse conditions at these at-risk levels when immune systems were compromised.

For very young children under the age of five, she said, this could lead to vulnerabilities in common childhood infections and could lead to death.

Vitamin A deficiency (VAD), she said, was the leading cause of preventable blindness in children and increased the risk of disease and deaths from infections.

By improving immune function, she said, vitamin A reduced mortality associated with diarrhea and other illnesses. She said naturally, vitamin A was found in animal sources, dark-green leafy and bright yellow and orange fruits and vegetables.

Mrs Sorovaki said the National Food and Nutrition Centre under the Ministry of Health had regularly conducted a national nutrition survey since it was established in 1993.

Children, Mrs Sorovaki said, should take vitamin A supplements every four to six months. National adviser for non-communicable diseases, Dr Isimeli Tukana said vitamin A supplements were critical for the healthy development of children from birth to 18 years and were readily available in health centres. The Ministry of Health and Medical Services, he said, had a program responsible for the distribution of dietary supplements. Multi-vitamins, he said, were distributed through nursing stations and health centres in Fiji.

Dr Tukana added vitamin A was also needed in order to develop good eyesight and the best form of vitamin A was found in local fruits and vegetables.

The revelation of this deficiency in our children is a concern because it is not as if we do not have food sources that effectively address this issue. Top fruits for vitamin A include mango, pawpaw, rockmelon, passionfruit, guava, avocado, watermelon and mandarin.

Top vegetables include saijan, bele, tubua, cassava, raddish, rourou and pumpkin. We have an abundance of these. The challenge though is on parents and guardians to take appropriate action. We must be alert to this concern. We must be proactive.

That means putting together a diet plan that provides vital ingredients that are important for our children.

Perhaps we should be looking at local fruits and vegetables that are plentiful in our markets around the country as a matter of priority. We should consider ourselves fortunate in the sense that we do have these fruits and vegetables that are important to provide vitamin A for our children.

Surely the health and wellbeing of our children is in our hands.