[Control of iron deficiency in developing countries].Sante. 2002 Jan-Mar; 12(1):22-30.S
Iron deficiency is the most prevalent nutritional disorder worldwide, especially in developing countries. It occurs when iron absorption cannot compensate iron requirements and losses. Requirements are especially high in pregnant women, infants, young children and adolescents who run a higher risk of being iron-deficient. In developing countries, the main cause of iron deficiency is the low iron bioavailability of the diet. The consequences of iron deficiency are many and serious, affecting not only individuals' health but also the development of societies and countries. The prevention and the control of iron deficiency and anemia in all groups of a population with different iron requirements imply to coordinate different interventions. Iron fortification of staple foods or condiments directed to the whole population is a sustainable and low cost-effective approach. However, at some periods of life, especially during pregnancy and in children from the age of 6 months, iron requirements are high. For pregnant women, the current approach favours the daily iron-folate supplementation during pregnancy but the results in terms of public health are disappointing. The preventive weekly iron-folate supplementation of women during their reproductive life, whose efficacy is recognized, offers a promising alternative; its impact in terms of public health is under current evaluation. For infants and young children, iron fortification of complementary food is effective but this food is generally imported and economically inaccessible to populations with limited resources. The production, by small private units from local products, of complementary foods of low viscosity, good nutritional quality, fortified with vitamins and minerals, and of low cost is at hand in several countries. When complementary foods are not available, the preventive iron supplementation from 6 to 18 months of age has to be advised. This approach should be strengthened by the advantages of the weekly approach. These interventions are more effective when they integrate other approaches like the improvement of the nutritional practices, infection control and the promotion of breast-feeding and when coupled with programs aiming to control other micronutrient deficiencies. The success of most interventions requires the active participation of the individuals. Information and education of the populations, especially through social mobilization campaigns, are essential because iron deficiency induces few visible symptoms, not easily recognizable by individuals. The implementation of national nutrition plans including the control of iron deficiency as one of the priorities and the participation of the public health and education sectors, food industries, the community and the media should contribute to the success of the interventions and to the control of iron deficiency.