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Providing perspectives on recent research into vitamins and nutritionals


Vitamin A and Malaria Risk in Children Under 5 Years

By Michael McBurney

Johns Hopkins researchers report children under 5 years of age living in sub-Saharan Africa who are supplemented with vitamin A are 54% less likely to develop malaria.

This is big news. Why? More than half of the world’s population is at risk of contracting malaria. The new evidence supporting vitamin A supplementation comes from an analysis of national survey data from 20,984 children living in 4 sub-Saharan countries (Burkina Faso, Mozambique, Rwanda and Senegal). Vitamin A supplementation was protective against Plasmodium parasitemia. Genetically-related differences in associations between vitamin A and parasitemia observed in this study. Measles vaccination was not associated with any differences in risk of malaria.

Vitamin A is thought to regulate tumor necrosis factor alpha, a pro-inflammatory modulator, to affect phagocytic clearance of malaria-infected blood cells. Previously, vitamin A supplementation has been shown to reduce malaria-induced morbidity in Burkina Faso (Zeba et al., 2008), Papua New Guinea (Shankar et al., 1999), Tanzania (Villamor et al., 2002), and Uganda (Nankabirwa et al., 2011).

Until a malaria vaccine is developed and in use in sub-Saharan Africa, it seems especially important to ensure children under 5 years have adequate vitamin A status.

Main Citation

Hollm-Delgado M-G, Piel FB, Weiss DJ, Howes RE, Stuart EA, Hay SI, Black RE. Vitamin A supplements, routine immunization, and the subsequent risk of Plasmodium infection among children under 5 years of age in sub-Saharan Africa. 2015 eLife doi: 10.755/eLife.03925

Other Citations

Sanjoaquin M, Molyneux ME. Malaria and vitamin A deficiency in African children: A vicious cycle? 2009 Malaria doi: 10.1186/1475-2875-8-134

Zeba AN, Sorgho H, Rouamba N, Zongo I, Rouamba J, Guiguemide RT, Hamer DH, Mokhtar N, Ouedraogo JB. Major reduction of malaria morbidity with combined vitamin A and zinc supplementation in young children in Burkina Faso: a randomized double blind trial. 2008 Nutr J doi: 10.1186/1475-2891-7-7

Shankar AH, Genton B, Semba RD, Baisor M, Paino J, Tamja S, Adiguma T, Wu L, Rare L, Tielsch JM, Alpers MP, West Jr KP. Effect of vitamin A supplementation on morbidity due to Plasmodium falciparum in young children in Papua New Guinea: a randomised trial. 1999 Lancet doi: 10.1016/S0140-6738(98)08283-2

Nankabirwa V, Tylleskar T, Nankunda J, Engebretsen IM, Sommerfelt H, Tumwine JK. Malaria parasitaemia among infants and its association with breastfeeding peer counselling and vitamin A supplementation: a secondary analysis of a cluster randomized trial. 2011 PLoS ONE doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0021862