Giving vitamin A supplements to children under the age of five in developing countries could save over 600,000 lives every year, researchers have claimed in the ‘British Medical Journal’.

A team of British and Pakistani experts assessed 43 studies involving 200,000 children, and found deaths were cut by 24 per cent if the subjects were given vitamin A which is needed for the visual and immune systems to work properly.

Taking the vitamin, found in foods, including cheese, eggs, liver and oily fish, would also cut rates of measles and diarrhoea, say the researchers from U.K.’s University of Oxford and Aga Khan University in Pakistan.

The World Health Organisation estimates that, around the world, 190 million children under the age of five may have a vitamin A deficiency.

According to the researchers, the effectiveness of vitamin A is so well-established that policy makers should provide supplements to all children at risk.

They evaluated studies that involved children aged six months to five years, and compared rates of illness and death among those who were given vitamin A and those who were not.

They found vitamin A supplements reduced child mortality by 24 per cent in low and middle-income countries.

They calculate that, considering the estimated 190 million children who are vitamin A deficient, reducing deaths by 24 per cent would save more than 600,000 lives each year.

Dr. Evan Mayo-Wilson from the University of Oxford, who worked on the study, was quoted by the ‘BBC’ as saying, “Until other sources are available, supplements should be given to all children who are at risk of vitamin A deficiency.

“After just one year, children who had taken supplements were less likely to have died than children who received a placebo (dummy version). Vitamin A supplements are highly effective and cheap to produce and administer.”

In an editorial for the journal, Professor Wafaie Fawzi of Harvard School of Public Health, added, “Effort should now focus on finding ways to sustain this important child survival initiative and fine tune it to maximise the number of lives saved.”