Background: Vitamin A supplementation in children aged 6 months to 5 years has been shown to reduce mortality. The efficacy of neonatal supplementation with vitamin A to reduce mortality in the first 6 months of life is plausible but not established. We aimed to assess the efficacy of neonatal oral supplementation with vitamin A to reduce mortality between supplementation and 6 months of age.
Methods: We undertook an individually randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial in Haryana, India. We identified pregnant women through a surveillance programme undertaken every 3 months of all female residents in two districts of Haryana, India, aged 15-49 years, and screened every identified livebirth. Eligible participants were neonates whose parents consented to participate, were likely to stay in the study area until at least 6 months of age, and were able to feed orally at the time of enrolment. Participants were randomly assigned to receive oral capsules containing vitamin A (retinol palmitate 50,000 IU plus vitamin E 9·5-12·6 IU) or placebo (vitamin E 9·5-12·6 IU) within 72 h of birth. Randomisation was in blocks of 20 according to a randomisation list prepared by a statistician not otherwise involved with the trial. Investigators, participants' families, and the data analysis team were masked to treatment allocation. The primary outcome was mortality between supplementation and 6 months of age. Analysis included all participants assigned to study groups. This trial is registered with ClinicalTrials.gov, number NCT01138449, and the Indian Council of Medical Research Clinical Trial Registry, number CTRI/2010/091/000220.
Findings: Between June 24, 2010, and July 1, 2012 we screened 47,777 neonates and randomly assigned 44,984 to receive vitamin A (22,493) or placebo (22,491). Between supplementation and 6 months of age, 656 infants died in the vitamin A group compared with 726 in the placebo group (29·2 per 1000 vs 32·3 per 1000; difference -3·1 per 1000, 95% CI -6·3 to 0·1; risk ratio 0·90, 95% CI 0·81 to 1·00). We noted no significant interactions between the intervention effect and sex on mortality at 6 months (p=0·409). Supplementation with 50,000 IU vitamin A within the first 72 h of life was generally safe and well tolerated, with the exception of a small excess risk of transient bulging fontanelle (205 cases in the vitamin A group confirmed by physician vs 80 cases in the placebo group, risk ratio 2·56 [95% CI 1·98-3·32]).
Interpretation: The findings of this study, done in a population in which vitamin A deficiency is a moderate public health problem, are consistent with a modest reduction in mortality between supplementation and 6 months of age. These findings must be viewed together with similar trials in other populations to enable determination of appropriate public health policy.
Funding: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to WHO.
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