Fortifying Cooking Oil with Vitamin A Across West Africa

21 May 2007

Dakar, Senegal, 21 May 2007 - Helen Keller International (HKI) announces a new $2.7 million multi-partner public/private initiative to produce vitamin A-fortified cooking oil in eight countries in West Africa.

Controlling vitamin A deficiency (VAD) is a cost-effective intervention to ensure the sight and survival of children, and to reduce maternal mortality. HKI has been at the forefront of developing strategies to combat VAD for three decades, including twice-yearly vitamin A capsule supplementation and increasing the availability and consumption of vitamin A-rich foods.

HKI is now taking the lead to bring the proven strategies of food fortification to West Africa. This new partnership covers the eight countries of West Africa that share the same currency and are members of the Monetary and Economic Union of West Africa (UEMOA): Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo.

HKI has helped bring together the key private sector, public sector and not-for-profit stakeholders to ensure mandatory vitamin A fortification of industrially-produced cooking oil throughout the UEMOA zone. The funding of the initiative is led by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which is contributing $1.3 million. Other financial partners include the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation ($750,000), the Government of Taiwan ($300,000), the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN - $200,000) and the Micronutrient Initiative (MI - $173,775).

The initiative is enhanced by major contributions from private cooking oil industries, governments, consumers, and the ongoing investments by GAIN, MI and USAID in Côte d’Ivoire, Mali and Senegal. The lead implementing partner is the Association of Oil Producers of the UEMOA Zone (AIFO-UEMOA), the umbrella organization of 14 cooking oil industries. Key regional public sector partners are the West African Health Organization (WAHO) and the UEMOA Commission. The two leading producers of vitamin A, BASF and DSM, are providing additional support.

In industrialized countries, many food products are fortified with essential vitamins and minerals. Consumers take for granted the nutrients they receive in their bread, orange juice – even water – and may not fully realize the positive impact this fortification has on their health. While fortified products have contributed to controlling vitamin deficiencies in developed countries, the problem continues to plague the developing world.

The Faire Tâche d’Huile initiative, which utilizes the UEMOA regional economic framework, and is strengthened by the commitment from the private sector, offers a unique opportunity to roll out a crucial child survival intervention in a region of the world with one of the highest child mortality rates. It is estimated that over 48% of children in this region are at risk of VAD and that sustainably controlling VAD will avert 105,000 child deaths per year in these eight countries.

Fortifying cooking oil with vitamin A has proven to be effective, widely-accepted, sustainable and low cost. Approximately 70% of the target population, including children, consume industrially processed oil. The cost of fortification per liter is only 1 cent, an imperceptible increase to the consumer since cooking oil prices normally experience slight seasonal variations.

HKI will sensitize consumers about the health benefits of fortified oil to create a market demand and enhance the market competitiveness of the local oil producers. The three-year private sector-led initiative, Faire Tâche d’Huile, is a sustainable solution to save the sight and lives of some of the most vulnerable children in the world.

Shawn Baker, Vice President and Regional Director for Africa +221 869.10.63, Jennifer Klopp, Director of Development and Communications 212.532.0544 x808,

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