By Funmi Ajumobi

The World Health Organization has classified Nigeria among 34 countries in the world with serious problem of Vitamin A Deficiency (VAD) related nutritional blindness and xerophathalmia. According to the organisation, VAD affects almost one in every three children in Nigeria.

File: Palm oil
File: Palm oil

Children between the ages of 60-71 months are particularly vulnerable to VAD because, by this time, the Vitamin A store, which was enriched through breastfeeding during infancy and weaning period, would have been exhausted.

Thus we can say kudos to international health organisations for the crusade of compulsory breastmilk feeding for children for the first three months which natually contains all nutrients.

Children under 70 months are more vulnerable because they are denied their rights to proper feeding and good nutrition after breastfeeding and weaning period. International health organisations believe malnutrition has profound implications for health and for human development and, presents a major obstacle to the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals in the country and globally.

Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin found in meat, liver, dairy products and eggs, fruit, green leafy vegetables and red palm oil. Many people are familiar with the relationship between Vitamin A and blindness, but the micronutrient also plays a critical role in boosting the immune system. If children have insufficient Vitamin A, their ability to resist diseases such as diarrhoea, measles and acute respiratory infections is greatly hampered. Increasing the Vitamin A intake of populations with Vitamin A Deficiency (VAD) can decrease childhood mortality from such illnesses by 23 per cent, or nearly a quarter of childhood deaths.

Study has shown that palm oil is the major source of Vitamin A aside the ones from meats liver, dairy products and eggs, fruit, and green leafy vegetables. A report on the  Vitamin A Deficiency assessment in Nigerian children made public recently by health organisations showed that prevalence of Vitamin A Deficiency was found in the North-East, 49.6%, and North-West (48.6%). In the South-East, the prevalence was lowest.

This is  attributed to the fact that in the southern savannah zone, oil palm is cultivated and consumed regularly. In the study, it was found that most of the sauces, potages and soups consumed in the southern zones were prepared using palm oil; a practice more common in the South-East,  than other zones in the South. VAD in northern Nigeria is attributed to common use of vegetable rather than red palm oil for cooking, whereas red palm oil is freely used in the South-East.

The problem, according to the report, in the South-West that experiences a relatively high level of Vitamin A Deficiency, it is due to the style of cooking where red palm oil is usually bleached before being used for cooking, by which time the Vitamin A content would have been destroyed. So, it is SOS to South West parents to device another means of using palm oil without bleaching as the benefits to our children’s development and total growth is unquantifiable.

 

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