Background Biannual vitamin A supplementation is a well-established survival tool for preschool children 6 months and older in vitamin A deficient populations but this schedule misses the opportunity to intervene on most young infant deaths. Randomised trials of neonatal vitamin A supplementation (NVAS) in the first few days of life to assess its impact on under 6-month mortality in low/middle-income countries have had varying results.
Methods Investigators of 11 published randomised placebo-controlled NVAS trials (n= 163 567 children) reanalysed their data according to an agreed plan and pooled the primary outcomes of mortality from supplementation through 6 and 12 months of age using random effects models and meta-regression. One investigator withdrew but allowed use of the data.
Findings Overall there was no effect of NVAS on infant survival through 6 (risk ratio (RR) 0.97; 95% CI 0.89 to 1.06) or 12 months of age (RR 1.00; 95% CI 0.93 to 1.08) but results varied by study population characteristics. NVAS significantly reduced 6-month mortality among the trials conducted in Southern Asia (RR 0.87; 95% CI 0.77 to 0.98), in contexts with moderate or severe vitamin A deficiency (defined as 10% or higher proportion of women with serum retinol <0.7 mu mol/ L or 5% or more women with night blindness) (RR 0.87; 95% CI 0.80 to 0.94), early infant mortality was 30 or more per 1000 live births (RR 0.91; 95% CI 0.85 to 0.98), 75% or more of infant mortality occurred in the first 6 months of life (RR 0.92; 95% CI 0.84 to 1.01), or where > 32% mothers had no schooling (RR 0.88; 95% CI 0.80 to 0.96). NVAS did not reduce mortality in the first 6 months of life in trials conducted in Africa, in contexts characterised by a low prevalence of vitamin A deficiency, lower rates of infant mortality and where maternal education was more prevalent. There was a suggestion of increased infant mortality in trials conducted in Africa (RR 1.07; 95% CI 1.00 to 1.15). Individual-level characteristics such as sex, birth weight, gestational age and size, age at dosing, parity, time of breast feeding initiation, maternal education and maternal vitamin A supplementation did not modify the impact of NVAS.
Conclusion NVAS reduced infant mortality in South Asia, in contexts where the prevalence of maternal vitamin A deficiency is moderate to severe and early infant mortality is high; but it had no beneficial effect on infant survival in Africa, in contexts where the prevalence of maternal vitamin A deficiency is lower, early infant mortality is low.