Severe anaemia is common in Africa. It has a high mortality and particularly affects young children and pregnant women. Recent research provides new insights into the mechanisms and causes of severe acquired anaemia and overturns accepted dogma. Deficiencies of vitamin B12 and vitamin A, but not of iron or folic acid, are associated with severe anaemia. Bacterial infections and, in very young children, hookworm infections are also common in severe anaemia. Irrespective of the aetiology, the mechanism causing severe anaemia is often red cell production failure. Severe anaemia in Africa is therefore a complex multi-factorial syndrome, which, even in an individual patient, is unlikely to be amenable to a single intervention. Policies and practices concerning anaemia diagnosis, treatment and prevention need to be substantially revised if we are to make a significant impact on the huge burden of severe anaemia in Africa.
Keywords: Africa; children; haemoglobin; policies; pregnant women; severe anaemia.
© 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.