Safety and Mortality Benefits of Delivering Vitamin A Supplementation at 6 Months of Age in Sub-Saharan Africa

Food Nutr Bull. 2016 Sep;37(3):375-386. doi: 10.1177/0379572116646280. Epub 2016 Jul 7.


Background: Vitamin A supplementation (VAS) among children 6 to 59 months of age reduces vitamin A deficiency (VAD)-related mortality. Child health days (CHDs) only reach an estimated 16.7% of children at exactly 6 months, leaving uncovered children at risk of VAD-related mortality; similarly, VAS provided at 9 months of age with measles-containing vaccine leaves infants unprotected for 3 months.

Objective: Using data from sub-Saharan Africa, we estimated the mortality benefits and safety of providing VAS at age 6 months, compared to delivery through CHDs and at 9 months.

Methods: We modeled VAS-preventable mortality benefits at 6 months as a function of published VAS effect sizes, intervention coverage, and proportion of infant deaths occurring between 6 and 11 months. To evaluate safety, we modeled the effect of different VAS coverage scenarios on maximum hepatic vitamin A concentrations (HVACs).

Results: VAS linked to a 6-month visit could reduce infant mortality by an additional 1.95 (95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.38-2.52) and 1.63 (95% CI: 1.15-2.11) percentage points compared to VAS through CHDs and at 9 months, respectively. The HVAC models indicate that VAS at 6 months is safe even in the presence of a second VAS dose 1 month later and other food-based vitamin A control strategies.

Conclusion: Advancing the first VAS dose to 6 months should be considered in settings where VAS is currently given first at 9 months. A 6-month VAS dose should also be considered in settings where VAS is delivered through CHDs. VAS delivery at 6 months could also serve as a platform to deliver other high-impact interventions.

Keywords: Africa South of the Sahara; deficiency; immunization; supplementation; vitamin A.