Severe vitamin C deficiency causes scurvy, a disease that is mainly associated with long sea voyages and naval expedition until the 19th century. Scurvy manifests itself 2-3 months after consuming a diet lacking in vitamin C; it is characterized by multiple haemorrhages and, left untreated, is fatal. In the past decade, several refugee populations that were wholly dependent on food aid have developed scurvy.
This document is intended primarily as a basis for ensuring adequate vitamin C intake in emergency settings. It reviews past experience with the strategies used to prevent scurvy among refugees and analyses factors influencing their success or failure. Also included are a literature review of the epidemiology of scurvy and its signs and symptoms, the properties and functions of vitamin C and recommended daily allowances, and a discussion of food sources of this vitamin and its stability.
Scurvy and its prevention and control in major emergencies is the first in an occasional WHO series on the prevention and control of micronutrient deficiencies during emergencies. Similar reviews concerning thiamine deficiency and pellagra are also available.
Department of Nutrition for Health and Development
Sustainable Development and Healthy Environments