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Women suffering from anaemia – a major challenge

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Anaemia is reaching extremely high levels in the Sahel and West Africa. Fourteen countries in the region have a prevalence of over 40% (severe) among women of reproductive age. Twelve West African countries feature among the twenty countries with the highest prevalence in the world. Globally, the prevalence of anaemia reduced between 1995 and 2011, from 33% to 29% among non-pregnant women and from 43% to 38% among pregnant women. According to the 2017 Global Nutrition Report, however, anaemia is increasing among women of reproductive age since 2012 and no country is on track to meet the set target. Pregnant adolescent girls are particularly vulnerable as they have dual iron requirements, for their own growth as well as for the growth of the foetus. Anaemia is an indicator of both poor nutrition and poor health. Iron deficiency is one of the main causes, others include folic acid, vitamins B12 and A deficiencies, as well as infections. Maternal anaemia is associated with mortality and morbidity in the mother and baby, including miscarriages, stillbirths, prematurity and low birth weight. In addition to affecting the health and quality of life of mothers, anaemia threatens future generations and has a negative effect on their development, ability to learn and economic productivity. The economic cost of cognitive deficiency and reduced productivity due to iron deficiency anaemia represents an average of 4% of GDP among low-income countries. The WHO has established guidelines for the prevention, monitoring and treatment of anaemia as well as an online monitoring tool in order to help countries set national targets and monitor progress. 

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