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Bull World Health Organ. 2003;81(8):581-90. Epub 2003 Oct 14.

The silent burden of anaemia in Tanzanian children: a community-based study.

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Ifakara Health Research & Development Centre, Ifakara, United Republic of Tanzania.



To document the prevalence, age-distribution, and risk factors for anaemia in Tanzanian children less than 5 years old, thereby assisting in the development of effective strategies for controlling anaemia.


Cluster sampling was used to identify 2417 households at random from four contiguous districts in south-eastern United Republic of Tanzania in mid-1999. Data on various social and medical parameters were collected and analysed.


Blood haemoglobin concentrations (Hb) were available for 1979 of the 2131 (93%) children identified and ranged from 1.7 to 18.6 g/dl. Overall, 87% (1722) of children had an Hb <11 g/dl, 39% (775) had an Hb <8 g/dl and 3% (65) had an Hb <5 g/dl. The highest prevalence of anaemia of all three levels was in children aged 6-11 months, of whom 10% (22/226) had an Hb <5 g/dl. However, the prevalence of anaemia was already high in children aged 1-5 months (85% had an Hb <11 g/dl, 42% had an Hb <8 g/dl, and 6% had an Hb <5 g/dl). Anaemia was usually asymptomatic and when symptoms arose they were nonspecific and rarely identified as a serious illness by the care provider. A recent history of treatment with antimalarials and iron was rare. Compliance with vaccinations delivered through the Expanded Programme of Immunization (EPI) was 82% and was not associated with risk of anaemia.


Anaemia is extremely common in south-eastern United Republic of Tanzania, even in very young infants. Further implementation of the Integrated Management of Childhood Illness algorithm should improve the case management of anaemia. However, the asymptomatic nature of most episodes of anaemia highlights the need for preventive strategies. The EPI has good coverage of the target population and it may be an appropriate channel for delivering tools for controlling anaemia and malaria.

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