Helen Keller International

Helen Keller International

Helen Keller International’s Vitamin A Supplementation Program provides critical nutrition to children around the world at-risk for vitamin A deficiency — a condition that can lead to blindness and death.

children are vitamin A deficient
children die annually from VAD-related causes
A vitamin A supplement costs
to deliver

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The problem: vitamin A deficiency

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), vitamin A deficiency (VAD) is the leading cause of preventable blindness in children, and increases the risk of disease and death from severe infections. It also contributes to other severe health issues, including stunting and anemia. VAD is common in poor regions around the world — particularly in Africa and Southeast Asia — as a result of diets low in vitamin A-rich foods. [1]

Oral vitamin A supplementation can prevent child blindness and reduce mortality by 12–24% and only costs US$1.23 per supplement.
Woman in Kenya giving child Vitamin A through Helen Keller International

The solution: oral vitamin A supplementation — also known as VAS

Oral vitamin A supplementation is “the most widely practiced approach to addressing VAD in most high-risk countries.” It involves providing children ages 6 months to 5 years with high-dose vitamin A supplements two or three times a year. WHO claims this type of supplementation can prevent blindness and reduce mortality for children in this age range by 12–24% and is extremely cost-effective: only about US$1.23 per supplement. [2] [3]

How Helen Keller International’s Vitamin A Supplementation Program works

According to WHO, almost 50% of children in Africa and South Asia are vitamin A deficient — that’s nearly 180 million children. [4] An estimated 100,000 children die each year from VAD-related causes. [5]

HKI is a longtime leader in combating VAD and its life-threatening effects with successful VAS programs across the globe. In close partnership with national governments, local organizations, and international partners, HKI helps facilitate mass vitamin A supplements to children who need it. In many countries, HKI is the lead NGO partner responsible for supporting its VAS program.


An estimated 100,000 children die each year from VAD-related causes.
Two women spoon-feeding their babies in a group

HKI’s VAS programs deliver nutritional supplements to children under 5 in several ways. We support their use of campaigns. These campaigns, like National Immunization Days or Child Health Days, integrate VAS into broader campaigns that address a variety of public health issues simultaneously.

What makes Helen Keller International so effective


VAS is considered by the World Bank to be one of the most cost-effective ways to save lives. Each supplement costs about US$1.23 to distribute. [6]

Far-reaching impact

Treating vitamin A deficiency in children ages 6 months to 5 years reduces all-cause mortality for that age group by 23%, measles mortality by 50%, and diarrheal disease mortality by 33%. [7]

Helen Keller International’s accountability and transparency

Rigorous charity evaluator GiveWell commends HKI’s accountability and transparency, noting that their self-evaluation is strong compared to the vast majority of organizations, and that they share significant, detailed information about their programs. [8]

Recognition for Helen Keller International

HKI’s VAS program has been selected as a Top Charity by GiveWell and is a considered a four-star charity by Charity Navigator. HKI is also the proud recipient of the 2014 Henry R. Kravis Prize in Leadership. [9]

Frequently Asked Questions

HKI provides technical assistance to governments, helping them train workers, monitor and evaluate results, and improve other areas of program design. HKI also advocates with governments to pursue VAS programs and in some cases provides funding to cover a portion of implementation costs.

GiveWell’s analysis found Helen Keller International’s VAS programs may be improving outcomes through the following mechanisms [10]:

  • increasing coverage rates in VAS mass campaigns
  • preventing coverage losses when transitioning to routine distribution
  • causing campaigns or other VAS programs to occur
  • decreasing the age at which children receive their first vitamin A supplement

In addition, HKI works in many communities to increase the availability of foods rich in vitamin A through its homestead food production programs and to promote the consumption of these foods through its essential nutrition actions program.

Ideally, children between the ages of 6 months and 5 years receive a high-dose vitamin A capsule every six months. They are usually administered by a health worker or community volunteer who cuts the tip of the capsule with scissors and squeezes the contents into the child’s mouth.

Yes. HKI runs a variety of programs combating blindness and malnutrition around the world. [11] However, our recommendation is specifically for their Vitamin A Supplementation programs, which our charity evaluator, GiveWell, recommends. Donations to HKI made through The Life You Can save are all ear-marked for VAS programs.

We recommend HKI’s VAS program because it has been named a Top Charity by GiveWell, one of our two charity evaluators.

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