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Open Access Review

Review of the safety and efficacy of vitamin A supplementation in the treatment of children with severe acute malnutrition

Lora L Iannotti1*, Indi Trehan123 and Mark J Manary1245

Author Affiliations

1 Institute for Public Health/George Warren Brown School of Social Work, Washington University in St. Louis, Campus Box 1196, St. Louis, MO 63130, USA

2 Department of Pediatrics, Washington University in St. Louis, 1 Childrens Pl, St Louis, MO 63110, USA

3 Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, University of Malawi, Blantyre, Malawi

4 Department of Community Health, University of Malawi, Blantyre, Malawi

5 Children’s Nutrition Research Center, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas, USA

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Nutrition Journal 2013, 12:125  doi:10.1186/1475-2891-12-125

Published: 12 September 2013

Abstract

Background

World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines recommend for children with severe acute malnutrition (SAM), high-dose vitamin A (VA) supplements be given on day 1 of admission, and on days 2 and 14 in the case of clinical signs of vitamin A deficiency (VAD). Daily low-dose VA follows, delivered in a premix added to F-75 and F-100. This study aimed to systematically review the evidence for safety and effectiveness of high-dose VA supplementation (VAS) in treatment of children with SAM.

Methods

A comprehensive literature review was undertaken for all relevant randomized controlled trials (RCT) and observational studies from 1950 to 2012. Studies identified for full review were evaluated using the Grading of Recommendations, Assessment, Development and Evaluation (GRADE) methodology using a set of pre-defined criteria: indirectness; inconsistency; imprecision; and study limitations. A quality rating of high, moderate, or low was then assigned to each study, and only those attaining moderate to high were considered in making recommendations.

Results

Of the 2072 abstracts screened, 38 met criteria for full review, and 20 were rated moderate to high quality. Only one study replicated the WHO VA protocol in children with SAM. Indirectness was a critical limitation, as studies were not exclusive to children with SAM. There was inconsistency across trials for definitions of malnutrition, morbidities, and ages studied; and imprecision arising from sub-group analyses and small sample sizes. Evidence showed improved outcomes associated with low-dose compared to high-dose VAS, except in cases presenting with signs of VAD, measles, and severe diarrhea or shigellosis. Adverse outcomes related to respiratory infection, diarrhea, and growth were associated with high-dose VAS in children who were predominantly adequately nourished. No adverse effects of the high dose were found in children with SAM in the trial that replicated the WHO VA guideline.

Conclusion

This is the first systematic review of the safety and efficacy of high-dose VAS in treatment of SAM. We recommend a low-dose VAS regimen for children with SAM, except in cases presenting with measles, severe diarrhea (shigellosis), and any indication of VAD. Further research is needed in exclusively malnourished children and to explore alternate delivery strategies.

Keywords:
GRADE; Vitamin A supplementation; Severe acute malnutrition; Systematic review