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Vitamin A supplementation in northern Ghana: effects on clinic attendances, hospital admissions, and child mortality. Ghana VAST Study Team.

Lancet 1993 Jul 3;342(8862):7-12

Although most studies on the effect of vitamin A supplementation have reported reductions in childhood mortality, the effects on morbidity are less clear. We have carried out two double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled trials of vitamin A supplementation in adjacent populations in northern Ghana to assess the impact on childhood morbidity and mortality. The Survival Study included 21,906 children aged 6-90 months in 185 geographical clusters, who were followed for up to 26 months. The Health Study included 1455 children aged 6-59 months, who were monitored weekly for a year. Children were randomly assigned either 200,000 IU retinol equivalent (100,000 IU under 12 months) or placebo every 4 months; randomisation was by individual in the Health Study and by cluster in the Survival Study. There were no significant differences in the Health Study between the vitamin A and placebo groups in the prevalence of diarrhoea or acute respiratory infections; of the symptoms and conditions specifically asked about, only vomiting and anorexia were significantly less frequent in the supplemented children. Vitamin-A-supplemented children had significantly fewer attendances at clinics (rate ratio 0.88 [95% CI 0.81-0.95], p = 0.001), hospital admissions (0.62 [0.42-0.93], p = 0.02), and deaths (0.81 [0.68-0.98], p = 0.03) than children who received placebo. The extent of the effect on morbidity and mortality did not vary significantly with age or sex. However, the mortality rate due to acute gastroenteritis was lower in vitamin-A-supplemented than in placebo clusters (0.66 [0.47-0.92], p = 0.02); mortality rates for all other causes except acute lower respiratory infections and malaria were also lower in vitamin A clusters, but not significantly so. Improving the vitamin A intake of young children in populations where xerophthalmia exists, even at relatively low prevalence, should be a high priority for health and agricultural services in Africa and elsewhere.

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