By; JACOB ONJEWU DICKSON
A Kaduna-based Non-Governmental Organisation(NGO) Hope for the Village Child, on Tuesday, stressed the need for pregnant women to ensure high intake of calcium and vitamin D to prevent rickets in their infants.
Rickets is a bone disorder caused by a deficiency of vitamin D, calcium, or phosphate.
The NGO’s Rickets Coordinator in Kaduna State, Mr Michael Ogundele, gave the advice in an interview with newsmen in Kaduna.
Ogundele said that rickets is a children’s disease caused by the lack of vitamin D provided by sunshine, which makes bones soft and bent.
The coordinator explained that calcium and vitamin D were two important micro nutrients for maintaining proper bone health.
He added that “calcium plays an important role in muscle contraction, transmitting messages through the nerves, and the release of hormones.
“If people are not getting enough calcium in their diet, the body takes calcium from the bones to ensure normal cell function, which can lead to weak bones.
“Calcium plays a key role in preventing and treating different clinical conditions with excessive bone loss.
“They are considered to be essential for increasing peak bone mass and for minimising age-related bone loss to reduce the risk of osteoporosis and low-trauma fractures.
“It is evident that vitamin D is one of the 13 essential dietary vitamins and is important for intestinal absorption of calcium.
“Apart from its skeletal effect, vitamin D is associated with reduction of the risk of cancer, autoimmune, infectious and cardiovascular diseases.
“Vitamin D and calcium can both be obtained directly from regular diet and supplementation. The dietary source of calcium is relatively more common than that of vitamin D.”
According to Ogundele, vitamin D is synthesised in the body after exposure to sunlight.
He, however, said the exposure was sometime compromised due to increased tendency to avoid sunlight exposure for cosmetic or cultural reasons and concerns about the potential risk of skin cancer.
The coordinator added that the organisation would extend its sensitisation to pregnant and breastfeeding women in rural communities in Jaba Chiefdom in Kaduna State.
He explained that women needed to be sensitised to take calcium and vitamin D during and after pregnancy to prevent rickets in their infants “because many communities have high prevalence of rickets and we want to help in sensitising the people about it.
“We also want to embark on research and continue to advocate that when a woman is seven months pregnant, she starts to take calcium till she gives birth and breastfeeds for six months.
“The child should also be given calcium tablet for one year: we want to observe the child at one year because that is the period one can notice rickets in children: during this period, we will also compare and do calcium test to see the level of calcium in the child’s body.’’
Ogundele urged government to include and emphasise intake of calcium supplements for pregnant women in antenatal schedule.
A medical practitioner, Dr Daniel Igo, also stressed the need to take calcium during pregnancy, adding that it reduced the risk of hypertension.
Igo said “when you are pregnant, your developing baby needs calcium to build strong bones and teeth. Calcium helps your baby grow healthy heart, nerves and muscles and develop normal heart rhythm and blood-clotting abilities.
“It can also reduce your risk of hypertension and preeclampsia. If you do not get enough calcium in your diet when you are pregnant, your baby will draw it from your bones, which may impair your own health later on.
“Even after your baby is born and you are through with breastfeeding, continue to pay attention to your calcium intake.
“You’ll need this mineral to strengthen bones and prevent bone loss (osteoporosis) later in life,’’ the medical practitioner said.
He listed milk and other dairy products as top sources of calcium, adding that canned fish, calcium-fortified cereal, juice, soy and rice, beverages, and bread were also sources of calcium.