Anemia still a major global problem, experts say

( – October 22, 2020 – 4:11pm

MANILA, Philippines — Anemia remains a major global public health problem with nearly 2.3 billion people suffering from it – an estimated 50% due to iron deficiency anemia (IDA).

Southeast Asia and Africa continue to have the highest prevalence of anemia – accounting for 85% of the burden affecting mainly women and children.

The situation has spurred international leading experts on iron and blood health, together with medical practitioners, to hold Anemia Convention, the first scientific symposium on anemia spearheaded by global healthcare company Merck. Over a hundred participants from Indonesia, India, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Singapore and the Philippines while renowned experts from Canada, Austria, Germany, and Australia discussed growing concerns over anemia especially since it continues to be one of the most pressing health issues in Asia. In fact, The World Health Assembly has adopted a comprehensive implementation plan to achieve six global nutrition targets with one of the specific aims being to achieve a 50% reduction in the rate of anemia in women of reproductive age by 2025.

Prof. Zulfiqar Ahmed Bhutta, Chair in Global Child Health at the Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto as well as Founding Director of the Centre of Excellence in Women and Child Health, at the Aga Khan University and keynote lecturer in the Anemia Convention, noted the staggering statistics on anemia and its prevalence in Asia.

“When you look at the maps of the distribution patterns of anemia, in infants and children from the most recent estimates that we have, it’s not too difficult to see that the vast majority of the world’s regions affected are the regions we are sitting in – South Asia, South Central Asia and Southeast Asia, also Africa,” Prof. Bhutta began.

“In numeric terms, if you look at women of reproductive age between 15 and 49, the figure becomes a little bit more dramatic. In Southeast Asia, there are 202 million affected women with anemia and in Western Pacific, about 100 million. 41.8% of pregnant women and almost 600 million preschool and school-age children globally are anemic whereof nearly 60% of pregnant and around half of children cases are attributable to iron deficiency,” he continued.

Prof. Bhutta cited The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (University of Washington): The Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries and Risk Factors (GBD) 2010 Study showed that at a global level and between 1990 and 2010, the burden that the world has with concomitant iron deficiency anemia and related to nutritional factors remains large. Iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency globally with approximately 4-5 billion people suffering from it.

As WHO stated, “…it constitutes a public health condition of epidemic proportions.”

Data on global anemia trends also showed that between 1995 and 2013, there has been no dramatic change on anemia statistics despite the range of interventions. This is seen to be attributable to nutritional anemia.

The Anemia Convention stated that both iron deficiency (ID) and IDA are the major challenges in Asia.

“Iron Deficiency Anemia is the most common anemia in both sexes of all age groups in any region in the world. In Asia, the high prevalence is due to malnutrition and parasitic infestation,” said Dr. Corazon Zaida Gamilla, one of the convention speakers and Chairman of the Dept. of OB-GYN in the University of Santo Tomas Hospital.

“Anemia is a health problem that transcends genders and age groups, that’s why it’s important to address it. The Anemia Convention puts you in a better understanding of the situation and gave new insights. As medical professionals, it helps us to communicate with and understand our patients better; also to target the priority of the government. Without government support and priority, no matter how we talk about this, we’re never going to get the goals in prevention and treatment of ID and IDA realized,” Dr. Gamilla stated.

Merck, a leading science and technology company in healthcare, life science and performance materials, spearheaded the Anemia Convention to provide a platform for healthcare professionals to share their expertise, exchange views and discuss about the impact of ID and IDA on quality of life and on trends on iron supplementation in the context of anemia. 

“Iron Deficiency Anemia is a burden that is regionally most importantly in Asia and Africa. For us, it’s an important area to look at. In these meetings, we’d like to connect with experts and healthcare professionals so we can learn about the disease, the diagnosis, the available treatments and about the gaps to be able to develop strategies and help healthcare professionals to deal better with this major public health burden,” Hans Griek, Chief Medical Officer, Merck Consumer Health said.

The pharmaceutical company is behind Neurobion, a supplement designed to provide multivitamins, particularly a specific combination of Vitamin B Complex with Vitamin B12 that help prevent anemia, which is particularly common among women and the elderly.

Iron deficiency anemia, if left untreated, significantly impacts quality of life and life expectancy. It was the leading cause of years lived with disability among children and adolescents and is associated long-term with reduced working performance, cognitive impairment and fatigue. 

Pregnant women require additional nutrients such as iron and folic acid (IFA) to meet their nutritional needs and those of their babies. Deficiencies in IFA during pregnancy can negatively impact the health of the mother and the development of the fetus. Thus, the use of IFA supplements is associated with reduced risks of iron deficiency and maternal anemia in pregnant women. 

In 2013, national prevalence of Vitamin A deficiency among children under 5 was at 20.4%; while anaemia was found to be higher than 15%. 

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