Anaemia, according to World Health Organisation (WHO), is defined as haemoglobin concentration below established cut-off levels. It is a widespread public health problem with major consequences for human health as well as social and economic development, it can be assumed that in resource-poor areas significant proportions of young children and women of childbearing age are anaemic.
WHO estimates the number of anaemic people worldwide to be a staggering two billion and that approximately 50 per cent of all anaemia cases can be attributed to iron deficiency.
Dieudonne Bukaba, a Kigali based nutrition expert, says that anaemia is a common condition that results from a lack of certain vitamins and minerals. Not consuming a balanced diet can lead to a deficiency, or malnutrition.
He says that iron-deficiency anaemia can occur when you lack iron on your diet, or if you have a condition that makes it hard to absorb nutrients. It can also lead to a low level of red blood cells.
Bukaba adds that vitamin-deficiency anaemia happens when a person does not consume or absorb enough vitamin B12 (for example eggs, milk, cheese, milk products, meat, fish, shellfish and poultry or lack of B9 (like fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy products). This can cause red blood cells into an unusual shape, thus not functioning properly. This can also affect a wide range of bodily functions.
Private Kamanzi, a dietician at Amazon Wellness Centre, Remera Gasabo District notes that, anaemia is a condition that develops when your blood lacks enough healthy red blood cells or haemoglobin. Haemoglobin is a main part of red blood cells.
Bukaba says that some people have low levels of the necessary nutrients because of a low dietary intake of iron, vitamin B12, or folate. This is especially true for those who feed on a vegan diet or a “monotonous, plant-based diet.”
A low dietary intake of Vitamin C and lack of intrinsic factor, a protein secreted by the stomach that aids in the absorption of vitamin B12, makes it hard to absorb nutrients, such as celiac disease.
Other causes could be due to health conditions that make it harder for the body to make enough red blood cells, medications, such as proton pump inhibitors (PPI), which affect the way the body absorbs vitamins, he adds.
“Riboflavin and copper are also needed for the body to make red blood cells. If these two are missing from your diet or if a person cannot absorb them, there is a higher risk of anaemia,” Bukaba adds.
He explains that factors that increase the risk of anaemia include; problems with the hormone erythropoietin, which stimulates the bone marrow to make red blood cells, conditions such as kidney disease and cancer, which make it hard for the body to produce enough red blood cells.
Some cancer treatments, he says may damage the bone marrow or reduce the red blood cells’ ability to carry oxygen, damaged bone marrow, which cannot make red blood cells fast enough to replace the ones that die or are destroyed, this can risk anaemia.
“HIV or AIDS infection or the medicine used to treat this disease can lead to anaemia. Alcohol consumption can affect the absorption of folate and vitamin B12, potentially leading to anaemia,” Bukaba states.
He adds that, some people are unable to make enough red blood cells from birth, this is aplastic anaemia. Infants and children with aplastic anaemia often need blood transfusions to increase the number of red blood cells in their blood. Certain medicines, toxins, and infectious diseases, also can cause aplastic anaemia.
Who is at risk?
Kamanzi stresses that children and toddlers of preschool age have the highest occurrence of anaemia.
Statistics from WHO supllment this showing that 47.4 per cent of this age group suffer from anaemia largely due to nutritional choices.
Kamanzi notes that children need more iron for growth and development.
He also says, “Pregnant women are at risk of anaemia, this is because during the first six months of pregnancy, the fluid portion of a woman’s blood, or plasma, increases faster than the number of red blood cells. This reduces blood and can lead to anaemia.”
Teenage girls lose a lot of blood during menstruation, this too can cause anaemia, he adds.
Kamanzi urges that, the main way to treat or prevent anaemia is through a healthful diet, however, another treatment may include; regulating nutrient quality by escalating the intake of nutrient-rich foods and using vitamin supplements to advance the absorption of iron.