Vitamin A supplements could save the lives of 600,000 infants a year

An international study suggests that giving vitamin A supplements to children in low and middle income countries could significantly cut rates of mortality, illnesses and blindness amongst those below the age of five.

Researchers from the University of Oxford and Pakistan's Aga Khan University have shown that vitamin A supplements reduce mortality amongst children from low and middle income countries by nearly a quarter (24 per cent).

According to the study, published in the online version of the British Medical Journal, the supplements were found to bring particular benefits in reducing rates of diarrhoea and measles.

The researchers from the University of Oxford's Centre for Evidence-Based Intervention and Pakistan's Aga Khan University Hospital are now calling for vitamin

A supplements to be given to all children who are at risk of not getting enough of the vitamin in their diet. They believe the benefits are so clear cut that trials comparing vitamin A to placebo are no longer ethical.

The findings are based on 43 trials in which some children received vitamin A while others received no intervention or a placebo. The sample included 215,633 apparently healthy children aged 6 months to 5 years in 19 countries, mostly in Asia.