Activists sceptical about iron, folic acid tablets

Doctors allay fears, says it's beneficial if implemented properly

In the wake of students in Delhi taking ill after being administered with folic acid and iron supplements under a newly-launched government’s drive against anaemia, ‘The national Weekly Iron and Folic Acid Supplementation Programme (WIFS)’ and death of a child in Bihar after taking Vitamin A tablet at an Anaganawadi centre, city activists have raised concern over the possible side-effects of the tablets in the State.

Malali Vasanthakumar, writer and editor of a medical journal ‘Karnataka Janapada Vaidya’, that compares allopathy, Ayurveda and Folk Medicine, has written a letter to the President of India Pranab Mukherjee, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and United Progressive Alliance Chairperson Sonia Gandhi, expressing concern over the issue.

Side-effects?

Vasanthkumar says, tablets could never be an alternative for natural food. Thus, in the long run it will have side-effects. Rather, the government could take initiative to provide eggs, vegetables, fruits, milk, greens, etc, which are rich in iron as well as other required supplements for children’s health. “The government can also aid farmers by buying their produce, instead of helping MNCs to flourish,” he added.

Describing the scheme as ‘unscientific’, he says the Government has not done proper research before executing the scheme. He said, India’s traditional medicine has the best possible treatments, naturally, that too without any side-effects. “These tablets could result in early puberty among girls and effect their menstrual cycle,” he said.

However, Dr K V Mahendrappa, Professor of Pediatrics, JSS Medical College, told Deccan Herald that the requirement of iron is very less — in micro grams — for human body, that too among children. There could be no side-effects as the content is drained in the metabolic process.

In a total of 100 mg tablet, only 30 per cent would be elemental and out of that 10 per cent would be absorbed, that is, not more than three mg, he said.

Weekly dose

Iron supplementation is advisable for children, specially for those from economically backward families, as they would not get iron-rich food in required quantities.
“The government’s initiative of one tablet per week is of no harm. It would have been dangerous if provided on a daily basis,” he added.

For those suffering from anaemia, six mg — per kg of human body — per day is required. The concentration is decided based on the weight of the child. Thus, there could be no harm, he explained.

Dr Mahendrappa said, the intake of fruits and foods rich in Vitamin C could be of help along with the iron and folic acid tablets. “Aerated drinks, tea, etc should be avoided as they could hamper absorption of iron,” he added.

Dr C Rajan, former professor of Medicine, Mysore Medical College and Research Centre, said, iron and folic acid enhances bone strength, intelligence, concentration and prevents infection. It improves overall health of the child.

Citing the Bihar and Delhi incidents, the doctor said, above all, the companies which supply the tablets should be genuine. “The Government should take measures to ensure that trusted companies supply the supplements,” he warned.

He said, a few students could be intolerant to particular drugs, so it has to be tested. If they complain of nausea and vomiting, tablets should be discontinued while teachers should report the same to the nearest medical practioneer. “If the scheme is implemented properly, in appropriate proportions, it would serve the purpose,” he opined.

Check-ups

District Health Officer Dr S M Malegowda, clarified that students are subjected to routine checkups and if there are any complaints, or if the level of hemoglobin is in its best level, the tablets will be discontinued. “100 mg of iron and 0.4 mg of folic acid supplement is given presently,” he added.

He said, the requirement is high among adolescent students and thus the scheme of providing the supplement to students between sixth to tenth standard is appropriate.

“The tablets are given once a week through out the year,” he said.

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