Vitamin A Supplements Improve Growth in African Children Infected With HIV, Malaria
Children with infectious diseases, such as HIV and malaria, who were given high-dosage vitamin A supplements showed greater height and weight gains than children receiving placebos, according to a study in this month's issue of Pediatrics, the AP/South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports (AP/South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 1/7). Dr. Eduardo Villamor of Harvard University and researchers from Muhimbili University College of Health Sciences in Dar es Salaam observed 554 Tanzanian children between the ages of six months and five years for up to 12 months. All of the children in the study were hospitalized with pneumonia at the outset and were assigned at the time of hospital admission to receive either two oral doses of 200,000 international units of vitamin A (infants received a half dose) or a placebo. Twenty-four percent of the children had malaria and 9% were diagnosed with HIV. The children in the treatment group received additional doses of vitamin A at intervals of four months and eight months after release from the hospital. All of the children were monitored every other week through clinic visits and home monitoring for respiratory infection and diarrhea incidence and severity and were measured for height and weight gains (Villamor et al., Pediatrics, January 2002).
Although large doses of vitamin A can cause side effects such as liver damage, the doses given to the children were within guidelines recommended by international aid agencies, and no side effects were reported. At the four-month mark, infants with HIV who were given the supplements had grown an inch more on average than their counterparts who received placebos. The growth difference remained constant for the remainder of the follow-up period. Children taking vitamin A also gained about one pound more than those who received placebos, with infants with malaria recording a "slightly greater difference" than those with HIV (AP/South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 1/7). The risk of stunted growth associated with persistent diarrhea lasting two weeks or more was also "virtually eliminated" by the supplements ( AP/Newsday, 1/7). Therefore, the researchers concluded that vitamin A supplementation "could constitute a low-cost, effective intervention to decrease the burden of growth retardation in settings where infectious diseases are highly prevalent" (Pediatrics, January 2002).