Despite efforts to reduce anaemia globally, it remains a significant health issue, especially affecting women and children, according to a latest study.
Published in The Lancet Haematology by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), the study highlights the need for targeted interventions to address the underlying causes of anaemia and reduce the disparities among different demographics.
Globally, in 2021, 31.2% of women had anaemia, compared to 17.5% of men. The gender difference was more pronounced in women aged 15–49, where anaemia prevalence was 33.7% compared to 11.3% in men.
“From this 30-year study, we know the global picture around anaemia has improved, but there are still wide disparities when you narrow the focus on geography, gender, and age,” says Dr. Nick Kassebaum, senior author of the study. He is head of IHME’s Neonatal and Child Health team, and Professor in Anaesthesiology at the University of Washington.
CHALLENGES FOR WOMEN AND CHILDREN
Despite efforts to reduce anaemia globally, progress has been slow for women and children. Factors such as access to nutrition, socioeconomic status, unmet need for contraception, and the ability to identify and treat underlying causes of anaemia contribute to this challenge. A shift towards multisectoral approaches and improved cultural awareness is essential to address these issues and prevent women and children from being left behind.
“Over the years, there’s been a lot of focus on reducing anaemia globally, but as a group, women and children have shown the least progress,” says Will Gardner, researcher at IHME and lead author of the paper.
LEADING CAUSES OF ANEMIA
Dietary iron deficiency remains the primary cause of anaemia, accounting for 66.2% of cases globally. Other significant contributors to anaemia include gynaecological disorders, maternal haemorrhage, hemoglobinopathies, and infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS and malaria in regions where these diseases are prevalent.
IMPACT ON DIFFERENT GROUPS
It affects various age groups differently. For children under five years, it can impact brain development and cognition, necessitating early treatment and management through access to nutrient-rich foods and treatment for parasitic infections and malaria. In young women and girls, education about blood loss during menstruation, effective management of menstrual problems, and knowledge about its management are crucial to address the condition’s mental health and physical consequences.
Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia face the highest burden. Western sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Central sub-Saharan Africa recorded the highest prevalence in 2021. In contrast, regions with the lowest rates included Australasia, Western Europe, and North America.
High-Burden and Low-Burden Countries: Countries like Mali, Zambia, and Togo had a burden of over 50% anaemia prevalence, while Iceland, Norway, and Monaco had a burden of less than 5%.
IMPACT ON MENTAL AND MATERNAL HEALTH
It has far-reaching consequences, with studies linking it to increased rates of anxiety and depression, as well as various adverse maternal and child health outcomes such as preterm labour, postpartum haemorrhage, low birth weight, and infections.
The study underscores the persistent global burden of anaemia, with women and children being disproportionately affected. To combat this effectively, healthcare interventions should target the specific needs of different demographics, address dietary deficiencies, and improve access to quality healthcare and education. Reducing anaemia prevalence among women and children remains a significant public health challenge that requires collective efforts from governments, healthcare professionals, and communities worldwide.