Rapid action needed to combat maternal anaemia – WHO
The World Health Organization (WHO) has called for rapid action to help combat anaemia among women of reproductive age.
At the International Maternal Newborn Health Conference 2023, in Cape Town, South Africa, it launched its first comprehensive framework on reducing anaemia, with the aim of halving prevalence of anaemia by 2025.
WHO says that countries have not acted fast enough to reach the global target and warned anaemia is a serious global public health problem, affecting 571 million women and 269 million young children worldwide.
“Most work on addressing anaemia has been focused on the prevention and treatment of iron deficiency,” says Francesco Branca, the director of WHO's Department of Nutrition and Food Safety Progress.
“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. All must be addressed to effectively prevent and treat anaemia.”
In 2019, anaemia affected 40% of children between six months and five years of age, as well as 37% of pregnant women and 30% of women 15–49 years of age. The condition is most prevalent in low- and middle-income countries.
The new 33-page framework examines the direct causes, risk factors and broad social inequities that are fundamental drivers for anaemia. It also focuses on the comprehensive approach that brings together multiple sectors and stakeholders to help address the health issue.
In his foreword for the framework, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of WHO, said: “Accelerating action on anaemia is foundational for the health and well-being of children, adolescents, and women.”
He said the millions affected by the condition face an increased risk of infections and death, impaired cognitive performance, extreme fatigue, poor pregnancy outcomes, loss of earnings, and poorer growth and development.
“The health, development and economic consequences of anaemia affect individuals, families, communities, and societies.
“The situation has been exacerbated by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, and by humanitarian crises caused by war and natural disasters. These in turn cause disruptions to health services, education, and social protection systems, and increase poverty and food insecurity.
“Conversely, reducing anaemia in women may contribute to reducing gender wage gaps and help some women and their families escape poverty.”
The framework sets out actions that a range of stakeholders can take – including governments, civil society, academia, researchers, funding agencies, international organisations and media – to help reach the target.
The authors of the framework said its publication comes at an important time, midway through the era of the Sustainable Development Goals, when progress in reducing anaemia has stagnated.
“This framework is based on the core principles of primary health care: meeting people’s health needs through comprehensive promotive, protective, curative, and rehabilitative care along the life course; systematically addressing the broader determinants of health; and empowering individuals, families, and communities to optimise their health,” they write.
It will be complemented by operational guidance and a monitoring framework that will elaborate on how to strengthen multisectoral responses and how to work in a coordinated way.
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