Alfred Sommer

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Alfred Sommer.
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Alfred Sommer (2 October 1942–) is an American scientist who discovered that vitamin A deficiency dramatically contributes to increased childhood mortality and morbidity. Sommer found that providing children, especially those living in the developing world, with vitamin A tablets twice a year could drastically reduce the rate of childhood death and blindness. It is estimated that Sommer’s discovery and treatment have saved more than 12 million children from an early death, and they continue to save hundreds of thousands more people every year.[1] Because of how cheap and easy it is to provide the biannual vitamin A supplements to those in need, the World Bank’s World Development Report declared Dr. Sommer’s vitamin A supplementation as one of the most cost effective of all health interventions.[2] He has authored a number of books on public health and preventative care and is a highly cited researcher.[3]

Vitamin A deficiency[edit]

Different forms of vitamin A.

His long-term, continuing research involves the cause, magnitude, consequences, and control of vitamin A deficiency and, most recently, those of related micronutrients. In a series of complex intervention trials Sommer conducted in Indonesia (1976-1980), he and his research team discovered that vitamin A deficiency was far more common than previously recognized, and that even mild vitamin A deficiency dramatically increases childhood mortality rates, primarily because this deficiency reduces resistance to infectious diseases such as measles and diarrhea. Parallel studies organized by Sommer with colleagues in Africa demonstrated that most cases of measles-associated pediatric blindness were also related to low vitamin A levels.

To prove these observations definitively, Sommer and his colleagues ran a number of large-scale, community-based, randomized trials from 1983 through 1992 and demonstrated the link between even mild vitamin A deficiency and pediatric mortality.

Moving from science to practice, Sommer next showed that the debilitating consequences of vitamin A deficiency could be effectively, quickly, and cheaply treated with oral high-dose vitamin A supplementation, and treatment did not require a sterile injectable preparation. As a result, the World Development Report (World Bank) declared vitamin A supplementation to be one of the most cost-effective of all health interventions.

The latest research by Dr. Sommer and his colleagues has shown that supplementing Nepalese women of childbearing age with vitamin A or beta-carotene can reduce maternal mortality by an average of 45 percent, and newborn vitamin A supplementation can reduce neonatal mortality by 20 percent.[4]

Other work[edit]

In addition to blindness prevention Sommer has done important research into glaucoma and early childhood nutrition.[5][6] His research interests also include public health and early childcare.


  • Epidemiology and Statistics for the Ophthalmologist
  • Getting What We Deserve: Health and Medical Care in America
  • Ten Lessons in Public Health : Inspiration for Tomorrow's Leaders
  • Nutritional Blindness: Xerophthalmia and Keratomalacia


  1. Hammond, Alexander (2019-07-13). "Meet the Ophthalmologist Who Saved Millions from Blindness" Alexander Hammond. Retrieved 2020-01-08.
  2. "ASPPH | Johns Hopkins: Cato Institute's Human Progress Recognizes Alfred Sommer In Heroes of Progress Series". Retrieved 2020-01-08.
  4. Health, JH Bloomberg School of Public. "Alfred Sommer - Faculty Directory". Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Retrieved 2020-01-08
  5. Tielsch, J. M., Sommer, A., Katz, J., Royall, R. M., Quigley, H. A., & Javitt, J. (1991). Racial variations in the prevalence of primary open-angle glaucoma: the Baltimore Eye Survey. Jama, 266(3), 369-374.
  6. Sommer, A.; Loewenstein, M. S. (March 1975). "Nutritional status and mortality: a prospective validation of the QUAC stick". The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 28 (3): 287–292.