Objectives: To raise awareness of significant iron deficiency anaemia occurring in Jamaican secondary school students.
Methods: Haematological screening of students in the fifth and sixth forms of 14 secondary schools in the parishes of Manchester and Clarendon, Jamaica, was done. Samples were subject to haemoglobin electrophoresis, examination of haematological indices, and haemoglobin, alpha 2 (HbA2) levels where indicated.
Results: Of 13 172 students with normal haemoglobin (AA) genotype aged 15–19 years, haemoglobin levels below 10 g/dL occurred in 0.36% of males and in 3.79% females. These subjects had low mean red cell volumes, low mean cell haemoglobin and high red cell distribution width, characteristic of iron deficiency, which was confirmed by dramatic increases in haemoglobin level following iron supplementation. Most revealed classic symptoms, histories of poor diets and pica, which generally resolved on iron supplementation.
Conclusions: Iron deficiency, even in the absence of anaemia, is known to limit physical and mental functions and may impair intellectual performance in these high school students. Significant anaemia could be detected by incorporating a blood test into the school medical assessments performed on entry to secondary schools. There is a need for simple oral iron medications to be available at health centres.