To determine missed opportunities and problems relating to implementation of the Vitamin A Supplementation Programme in urban and rural regions of the Western Cape Province of South Africa.
A cross-sectional survey was conducted at primary health-care (PHC) clinics in Cape Metropole, an urban region, and West Coast Winelands, a rural region, of the Western Cape. A purposive sample of clinics where more than 30 children were seen per day was drawn from 10 of the 11 districts in the Cape Metropole region and the two districts of the West Coast Winelands region. The number of children selected from each district was weighted in terms of population size for the two regions. At each clinic visited, the first five to 10 children seen on a day, and meeting the inclusion criteria for vitamin A supplementation (VAS) based on the vitamin A provincial policy guidelines, were selected. These included children with low birth weight (LBW), growth faltering, underweight and severe undernutrition, recurrent diarrhoea and lower respiratory tract infection (LRTI), tuberculosis, measles, HIV/AIDS and eye signs of vitamin A deficiency. Clinic records were reviewed following consultation with the PHC nurse to identify if the child required vitamin A, exit interviews were conducted with mothers/caregivers, and Road to Health Charts (RTHCs) were reviewed. At the end of the study, PHC managers were interviewed to determine if problems could be identified with the Programme.
Forty-three of 123 (35%) and 13 of 40 (33%) of the fixed PHC clinics in the Cape Metropole and West Coast Winelands regions were visited, and a total of 300 children (234 from Cape Metropole, 66 from West Coast Winelands) with a mean (standard deviation) age of 24.3 (16.3) months and who met the inclusion criteria for VAS were selected. Of the total sample of children, 198 (66%) had multiple (i.e. more than one) indication and 102 (34%) had a single indication for VAS. There were a total of 617 indications for VAS in the two regions; 238 (39%) for growth faltering, 119 (19%) for underweight, 98 (16%) for LBW, 70 (11%) for LRTI, 51 (8%) for diarrhoea, 21 (3%) for HIV/AIDS and 20 (3%) for tuberculosis. A total of 102 (34%) of the children in the two regions received vitamin A supplements (Cape Metropole 29%; West Coast Winelands 52%). A record was made on the RTHC of 79 (77%) of the children who received VAS (Cape Metropole 76%; West Coast Winelands 79%). Twenty-four per cent of the mothers knew why their child had been given vitamin A (Cape Metropole 29%; West Coast Winelands 12%). Eleven per cent of the mothers had previously heard about the Vitamin A Supplementation Programme (Cape Metropole 12%; West Coast Winelands 6%). More than 81% of PHC managers indicated that health staff had been trained to implement the Vitamin A Supplementation Programme. The main problems identified by health staff in the two regions were lack of vitamin A capsules, inadequate training and difficulties in implementing the Programme.
Opportunities to administer vitamin A were underutilised in both regions. Recommendations such as improving mothers' awareness of the benefits of vitamin A and training of PHC nurses were made to the provincial Department of Health and are being implemented to improve the effectiveness of the Programme.