The Progress In Reducing Anaemia In Women Has Stagnated: WHO

Iron deficiency is the most common cause of anaemia.

The progress in reducing anaemia in women of reproductive age has stagnated, says the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has asked countries to accelerate action to reduce anaemia prevalence in women of reproductive age by 50 per cent by 2025, expressing concern that the progress has stagnated. The UN health agency launched a comprehensive framework on reducing anaemia during the International Maternal Newborn Health Conference.

According to WHO, anaemia affect 571 million women and 269 million young children worldwide, mostly in low- and middle-income countries. In 2019, almost 40 per cent of children aged between 6 months and 5 years were affected by anaemia, while about 30 per cent of women of reproductive age (15 49 years of age) suffered from the blood disorder, as per WHO Global Anaemia estimates. Globally, anaemia affected about 37 per cent of pregnant women in 2019.

The National Family Health Survey (NFHS) statistics showed that the prevalence of anaemia among all women aged 15-49 years of age in India has gone up to 57 per cent in 2019-21 from 53 per cent in 2015-16.

How serious is anaemiain women of reproductive age?

Anaemia in women of reproductive age is a major public health challenge as it can lead to serious health consequences for both the mothers and child. Estimates say more than 115 000 maternal deaths occur every year to anaemia worldwide.

Pregnant women with anaemia (iron deficiency) are at increased risk for adverse birth outcomes including preterm delivery, delivering a low-birth-weight baby, preeclampsia, cesarean delivery, maternal death, perinatal death. Children born to mothers who are anaemic are likely to suffer from the blood disorder which may continue during the life course.

Anaemia is associated with increased the risk of infections, poor cognitive performance, extreme fatigue, loss of earnings, and poor growth and development in children.

The highest prevalence of anaemia in women of reproductive age is recorded in low- and middle-income countries, likely due to nutrient deficiencies and high cases of infectious diseases such as malaria, HIV and parasitic infestations.

Interventions needed for addressing anaemia

There are multiple causes of anaemia including nutritional deficiencies, infections, inflammation, gynaecological and obstetric conditions, and inherited red blood cell disorders. All these risk factors must be addressed to effectively prevent and manage anaemia, said Francesco Branca, Director of WHO’s Department of Nutrition and Food Safety.

However, he noted that currently, most work on addressing anaemia is focused on the prevention and treatment of iron deficiency, the most common cause of anaemia.

The WHO’s new framework on reducing anaemia highlights ways to address the direct causes, risk factors and social inequities that contributes to anaemia prevalence. It underscores the need for a multisectoral approach for the prevention, diagnosis and management of all forms of anaemia, with special focus on menstruating women and adolescents, pregnant and postpartum women, and children, in low- and middle-income countries.

To achieve the 50 per cent reduction in the prevalence of anaemia in women of reproductive age by 2025, several strategies are being implemented globally, including iron and folic acid supplementation for pregnant and lactating women.

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