Iron deficiency remains the largest nutritional deficiency worldwide and the main cause of anaemia. Severe iron deficiency leads to anaemia known as iron deficiency anaemia (IDA), which affects a total of 1·24 billion people, the majority of whom are children and women from resource-poor countries. In sub-Saharan Africa, iron deficiency is frequently exacerbated by concomitant parasitic and bacterial infections and contributes to over 120 000 maternal deaths a year, while it irreparably limits the cognitive development of children and leads to poor outcomes in pregnancy.
Currently available iron compounds are cheap and readily available, but constitute a non-physiological approach to providing iron that leads to significant side effects. Consequently, iron deficiency and IDA remain without an effective treatment, particularly in populations with high burden of infectious diseases. So far, despite considerable investment in the past 25 years in nutrition interventions with iron supplementation and fortification, we have been unable to significantly decrease the burden of this disease in resource-poor countries.
If we are to eliminate this condition in the future, it is imperative to look beyond the strategies used until now and we should make an effort to combine community engagement and social science approaches to optimise supplementation and fortification programmes.