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J Nutr. 2002 Apr;132(4 Suppl):853S-5S.

Iron supplementation: overcoming technical and practical barriers.

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Micronutrient Operational Strategies and Technologies Project, International Science and Technology Institute, Inc., Arlington, VA 22209, USA.


Iron supplementation is probably the best available option to effectively address iron deficiency in pregnant women and young children because it can be targeted specifically to these high-risk groups. However, technical and practical barriers exist: limited information on the effectiveness of supplementation interventions, side effects that affect compliance, and supply/distribution constraints. An innovative approach to addressing these constraints is the use of sprinkles of powdered, microencapsulated ferrous fumarate that can be added directly to any semi-liquid food without changing their taste or consistency. This technique has been tested in initial trials in Ghana and found to be as effective as iron drops. Another approach to improve the effectiveness of iron interventions is through information, education and communication (IEC) programs. These interventions can help modify consumer behavior in some cases, but in some countries, geographic location, variations in language and population size can make the cost of IEC programs very high. IEC strategies in Indonesia aimed at increasing demand for iron supplements by systematic dissemination of specific messages, improving the quality and variety of tablets, increasing the availability and access to supplements by engaging the commercial sector, enrolling traditional birth attendants and other community volunteers in selling supplements. Key issues to be addressed include clarifying optimal starting points and duration of supplementation interventions--based on individual status or population prevalence, defining hemoglobin and ferritin cutoffs at which treatment should be instigated and evaluating the effectiveness of intermittent supplementation with multiple micronutrients.

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