Woman holding baby consults with expert on feeding
Photo Credit: Jalal Abad
Focus Area(s):

Anemia is caused by multiple factors⁠—most notably, iron and other nutrient deficiencies, malaria, helminthes infestation, non-specific inflammation, and genetic blood disorders. Preventing and controlling anemia require an understanding of the leading causes of anemia in a given setting and developing integrated programs to address these underlying causes. Governments and donor agencies have made large investments to reduce anemia, but still it remains an urgent public health problem despite decades of global research into its prevalence, causes, and consequences.

One of the reasons for lack of significant progress in anemia reduction may derive from an older paradigm that assumes that 50 percent of anemia cases worldwide were caused by nutritional iron deficiency, resulting in programs that have primarily focused on delivery of iron, assigning slightly lower priority to other approaches. While iron deficiency remains the most common cause of anemia, new estimates suggest that iron deficiency may contribute a lesser proportion to anemia than previously assumed (25 percent in school-aged children and 37 percent in women of reproductive age). This calls for interpreting new evidence on the nutritional, physiological, and genetic aspects of anemia, and developing an approach that starts with context-specific assessment that leads to appropriate interventions.

To this end, the USAID Advancing Nutrition Anemia Task Force, a panel of nutrition experts, is developing a comprehensive overview of anemia⁠—what has been done, what we are uncovering now, and what we can do to reach the World Health Assembly goals for reducing anemia. The USAID Advancing Nutrition Anemia Task Force will adopt an ecological approach that includes an appreciation of systems biology⁠— understanding the biological mechanisms underpinning various causes of anemia, translation of knowledge of biology within sensitive and specific assessment methodologies and interventions, which ultimately improve clinical and public health outcomes. This is illustrated in a technical report being produced in the first year by three working groups that comprise the Task Force:

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The Biology working group will present recent advances in understanding the underlying biological mechanisms of anemia.
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The Assessment working group will provide a practical approach to assessment of anemia in public health settings, with a focus on evaluating the etiology.
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The Translating to Interventions working group will update readers on carrying out interventions for anemia prevention and control that incorporate an understanding of biology and assessment of anemia.

The technical report will be available at the end of 2020. Please contact USAID Advancing Nutrition at info@advancingnutrition.org with any questions about the report.

The USAID Advancing Nutrition Anemia Task Force will also advise the project on areas of investments, with respect to research and implementation in anemia reduction.

Recent research support by USAID Advancing Nutrition indicates at least 1.6 billion preschool children and non-pregnant women have one or more deficiencies; however, the total is likely much higher.
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