May 29, Colombo: Sri Lanka's Ministry of Health has partnered with UNICEF to boost awareness on the importance of iron rich foods as a way to decrease the growing numbers of children and women affected by Iron Deficiency Anemia (IDA) in the country.
It has been estimated that 1 in 3 children and 1 in 4 adults in Sri Lanka suffer from iron deficiency anemia making it the most critical micronutrient related deficiency in the country.
According to the UNICEF, anemia, mainly due to iron deficiency, affects 40 per cent of pre-school children and 1 in 2 pregnant women in developing countries.
Infants born of mothers with anemia often have low birth weight, and face a higher risk of dying in infancy and childhood. Premature births, delayed growth and development, delayed normal infant activity and movement are also associated with IDA, the UNICEF notes.
The Minister of Health, Maithripala Sirisena says the Iron Deficiency Anemia is a public health problem.
"Prevention and treatment of iron deficiency can raise national productivity by 20 percent," he noted.
Children and adults with IDA have poor memory or poor cognitive skills resulting in poor performance in school, work, and in recreational activities. Lower IQs have been linked to iron deficiency occurring during critical periods of growth.
Ms. Una McCauley, UNICEF Representative in Sri Lanka said the Iron increases the success of early education, health, and social programs for children.
"By treating IDA early, you give children a better chance to develop to their full potential," she said.
According to UNICEF information, iron is an essential mineral needed for healthy growth and development. Symptoms commonly associated with iron deficiency include chronic fatigue, weakness, dizziness, headaches, and shortness of breath doing simple tasks (climbing stairs, walking short distances, doing housework), and loss of interest in work, recreation and relationships. As the body becomes deficient in iron and anemia worsens, the symptoms also worsen.
Prevention and treatment of IDA includes the consumption of iron rich foods such as lean meats, fish, nuts, green leafy vegetables (such as Gotukola, Sarana, Murunga Leaves, Kathurumurunga and Thampala), pulses and eggs. Sources of Vitamin C such as fruits or vegetables can also help the body to absorb iron better.
Since the 1980's, UNICEF has supported the Government of Sri Lanka in its Iron supplementation programme for all children and pregnant and lactating mothers in the country. As part of this, children under two years of age across 11 districts were provided with micronutrient powder and school children were given free iron tablets on a weekly basis to boost their iron intake. More recently, the treatment of IDA and other micronutrient deficiencies was identified as part of the Governments National Nutrition Action Plan, while more innovative solutions in the fortification of staple foods is also being pursued to sustain the programme.