In many developing countries, iron deficiency anaemia is aggravated by worm infections, malaria and other infectious diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis. The major health consequences include poor pregnancy outcome, impaired as a means of comprehensive development of preschool children and cognitive development, increased risk of morbidity in children and reduced work productivity in adults.
As well as affecting a large number of children and women in developing countries, it is the only nutrient deficiency which is also significantly prevalent in Industralized Countries. Iron deficiency affects more people than any other condition, constituting a public health condition of epidemic proportions. More subtle in its manifestations than, for example, protein-energy malnutrition, iron deficiency exacts its heaviest overall toll in terms of ill-health, premature death and lost earnings. Iron deficiency and anaemia reduce the work capacity of individuals and entire populations, bringing serious economic consequences and obstacles to national development.
Overall, it is the most vulnerable, the poorest and the least educated who are disproportionately affected by iron deficiency, and it is they who stand to gain the most by its reduction. The health consequences are stealthy but devastating, invisibly eroding the development potential of individuals, societies and national economies. Because of their close links, iron deficiency and anaemia should be tackled simultaneously using a multifactorial and multi sectorial approach. It should also be tailored to local conditions and take into account anaemia’s specific aetiology and the population groups affected. Eliminating iron deficiency anaemia demands truly courageous efforts from governments the world over and the international community. WHO has developed a comprehensive package of public health measures addressing all aspects of iron deficiency and anaemia. This package is being implemented in countries with high levels of iron deficiency and anaemia, malaria, helminth infections and schistosomiasis.