The World Health Organisation said anaemia is a serious global public health problem, affecting 571 million women and 269 million young children worldwide.
WHO said anaemia is a condition in which the number of red blood cells or the haemoglobin concentration within them is lower than normal. Haemoglobin is needed to carry oxygen and if you have too few or abnormal red blood cells, or not enough haemoglobin, there will be a decreased capacity of the blood to carry oxygen to the body’s tissues.
This results in symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, dizziness and shortness of breath, among others. The optimal haemoglobin concentration required to meet physiologic needs varies by age, sex, elevation of residence, smoking habits and pregnancy status.
Anaemia may be caused by nutrient deficiencies through inadequate diets or inadequate absorption of nutrients, infections, inflammation, chronic diseases, gynaecological and obstetric conditions, and inherited red blood cell disorders.
The most common nutritional cause of anaemia is iron deficiency, although deficiencies in folate, vitamins B12 and A are also important causes.
Hence, the WHO launched its first-ever comprehensive framework on reducing anaemia during the International Maternal Newborn Health Conference in South Africa.
WHO urge countries to accelerate action to halve anaemia prevalence in women of reproductive age by 2025, noting that progress on reducing anaemia has been slow and the world is not on track to reach the global target.
According to the global health body, in 2019, anaemia affected 40 per cent of children between six months and five years of age, 37 per cent of pregnant women and 30 per cent of women 15–49 years of age. It is most prevalent in low- and middle-income countries.
It said anaemia increases the risk of infections and death, impairs cognitive performance, and causes extreme fatigue, poor pregnancy outcomes, loss of earnings, and poor growth and development. It is a strong indicator of overall health.
“Most work on addressing anaemia has been focused on the prevention and treatment of iron deficiency,” says the Director of WHO’s Department of Nutrition and Food Safety, Francesco Branca. “However, anaemia is a complex condition with multiple causes – including other nutritional deficiencies, infections, inflammation, gynaecological and obstetric conditions, and inherited red blood cell disorders.”
The new framework, however, sets forth ways to address the direct causes, risk factors and broad social inequities that are fundamental drivers for anaemia. It describes the necessarily comprehensive approach that brings together multiple sectors and actors, and lays out key action areas to improve the coverage and uptake of interventions
Acknowledging that health remains the predominant sector for delivering many of the recommended interventions, the framework also proposes actions that other societal stakeholders can take.
These include governments, civil society, academia, researchers, funding agencies, international organisations and media. Each has its particular role to perform in reducing anaemia and keeping people healthy.