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BackgroundIron deficiency (ID) is a major public health burden in African children and accurate prevalence estimates are important for effective nutritional interventions. However, ID may be incorrectly estimated in Africa because most measures of iron status are altered by inflammation and infections such as malaria. Through the current study, we have assessed different approaches to the prediction of iron status and estimated the burden of ID in African children.MethodsWe assayed iron and inflammatory biomarkers in 4853 children aged 0-8 years from Kenya, Uganda, Burkina Faso, South Africa, and The Gambia. We described iron status and its relationship with age, sex, inflammation, and malaria parasitemia. We defined ID using the WHO guideline (ferritin ResultsThe prevalence of ID was highest at 1 year of age and in male infants. Inflammation and malaria parasitemia were associated with all iron biomarkers, although transferrin saturation was least affected. Overall prevalence of WHO-defined ID was 34% compared to 52% using the inflammation and malaria regression-corrected estimate. This unidentified burden of ID increased with age and was highest in countries with high prevalence of inflammation and malaria, where up to a quarter of iron-deficient children were misclassified as iron replete. Transferrin saturation ConclusionsThe prevalence of ID is underestimated in African children when defined using the WHO guidelines, especially in malaria-endemic populations, and the use of transferrin saturation may provide a more accurate approach. Further research is needed to identify the most accurate measures for determining the prevalence of ID in sub-Saharan Africa.

Original publication




Journal article


BMC medicine

Publication Date





Centre for Geographic Medicine Research-Coast, KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Programme, Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI), Kilifi, Kenya.


Humans, Anemia, Iron-Deficiency, Child, Child, Preschool, Infant, Infant, Newborn, Africa, Female, Male