The Harvard University study involved about 690 children from Tanzania between 6 months and 60 months old who had been admitted to the hospital with pneumonia. Twenty-four percent of the children were also suffering from malaria and 9 percent tested positive for HIV infection. Some children in the study received either an oral dose of vitamin A on their first day of admission, a second dose on the second day, and third and fourth doses four and eight months after they were discharged. A second group of children received placebo doses at the same times. Children were assessed for length, weight, and other measures of growth at the beginning of the study and again during monthly visits to the clinic.
After one year, results showed HIV-positive children under 18 months old who received vitamin A supplements improved in terms of length, while those who had malaria and were less than a year old improved in terms of weight. Children who lived in areas with poor water supplies also showed an improvement in length, and the supplements virtually eliminated the risk of growth stunting associated with persistent diarrhea.
Researchers conclude providing vitamin A supplements every four months to children under the age of 5 who live in areas with a high rate of infectious diseases such as HIV, malaria, and diarrhea could be an effective and inexpensive way to help these children reach their full growth potential.
SOURCE: Pediatrics, 2002;109;E6