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Killing a Silent Killer of Women

A promising new study indicates that, with the right approach, anemia can be significantly reduced in as little as ten months. Given the prevalence and far-reaching consequences of this deadly nutritional disorder – which disproportionately affects women of child-bearing age in developing countries – implementation cannot come too soon.

DHAKA – In public health, discussions relating to women typically focus on maternal mortality, malnutrition, and more recently, sexual and reproductive health. But one facet of malnutrition – and a major killer of women – is often ignored: anemia.

Anemia is the world’s most common nutritional disorder, affecting more than 1.6 billion people. Broadly defined as an excessively low concentration of hemoglobin (an iron-rich protein that carries oxygen to tissues throughout the body) in the blood, anemia occurs either when there are too few red blood cells or when their oxygen-carrying capacity is compromised. It is caused by a deficiency in essential nutrients, most often iron, but also folic acid, vitamin B12, or vitamin A.

Although anemia can affect anyone, the majority of those affected are women of child-bearing age: in 2011, 29% of non-pregnant women worldwide (496 million people) and 38% of pregnant women (32.4 million people) aged 15-49 were anemic. The disorder was most prevalent in South Asia and Central and West Africa.

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