Published: August 19, 2021

An international study has found a global target to eradicate childhood anaemia by 2030 will fail, presenting a major public health challenge. Life Course Centre PhD candidate Md. Mehedi Hasan from The University of Queensland’s Institute for Social Science Research (ISSR) said although the results showed a considerable reduction in childhood anaemia from 2000 to 2018, it would not be enough to eliminate the condition.

“We predict that by 2030, more than half of the 36 countries studied will have a severe problem with childhood anaemia,” Mr Hasan said. Children with the condition do not have enough red blood cells to carry oxygen to their body’s tissues, leading to chronic fatigue and potentially life-threatening complications. “The research shows gaps in anaemia prevalence across wealth and maternal age in low to middle-income countries,” he said. “In children aged six months to five years old, the prevalence of childhood anaemia fell in 22 countries, Zimbabwe had the greatest reduction of 4.2 per cent, while rates increased in 14 countries, with Burundi the highest at five per cent.”

The study showed social factors such as household wealth, residence, the mother’s age and education level, and sex of the child contributed to the prevalence of childhood anaemia. It also showed childhood anaemia was increasing in some countries because of inadequate diet and lower consumption of iron-rich foods. “Nutritional deficiencies contributed to an estimated 145,000 annual deaths among children around the world,” Mr Hasan said.

Researchers analysed data from more than 776,000 children with the aim of identifying trends and making child anaemia projections. “These findings demonstrated the need for implementing interventions that more effectively target anaemia in high-risk countries,” Mr Hasan said. “Current interventions including fortified and diversified dietary intake and disease control measures should be scaled up and expanded to more effectively target vulnerable groups.”

Life Course Centre Chief Investigator Associate Professor Abdullah Mamun said collective efforts were needed to address the issue across low and middle-income countries. “By delivering high-impact interventions supported by sustained financial help in poorly performing countries, policy-makers can target the most disadvantaged groups,” Dr Mamun said.

The study was a collaboration between Life Course Centre researchers at ISSR Mr HasanDr Yaqoot FatimaSonia Pervin and Associate Professor Abdullah MamunAssociate Professor Ricardo J Soares Magalhaes of UQ’s Spatial Epidemiology Laboratory; Professor Saifuddin Ahmed of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and Md. Tariqujjaman of the University of Dhaka. The research is published in Cambridge University Press (DOI: 10.1017/S1368980021002482)