Perspective: Weekly Iron and Folic Acid Supplementation (WIFAS): A Critical Review and Rationale for Inclusion in the Essential Medicines List to Accelerate Anemia and Neural Tube Defects Reduction

Marion L. Roche, Kaitlyn L.I. Samson, Tim J. Green, Crystal D. Karakochuk, Homero Martinez

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Weekly iron and folic acid supplementation (WIFAS) is among the 8 key effective actions for improving adolescent nutrition included by the WHO in the 2018 guidelines. However, at present WIFAS in the WHO-recommended formulation is not included in the Model Essential Medicines List (MEML), limiting the potential for countries to import, produce, and prioritize this formulation as part of their national supply management and procurement plans for medicines. The WHO WIFAS guideline presents evidence that the formulation reduces anemia, but not that folic acid reduces neural tube defects (NTDs), because sufficient evidence was unavailable at the time of the last review. Recently, a 3-Arm, parallel-group, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled folic acid efficacy trial on WIFAS was conducted to address this evidence gap. The study population included 331 women (18-45 y old), randomly assigned to 3 treatment groups, including a supplement with 60 mg Fe as ferrous fumarate and either 0 mg, 0.4 mg, or 2.8 mg of folic acid, to be consumed once weekly for 16 wk, followed by a 4-wk washout period. In this article we critically review how the outcomes of this folic acid efficacy trial, and how the evidence generated, could potentially be used to inform WHO WIFAS guidelines for the potential inclusion of this formulation on the MEML, and how this, in turn, may affect product availability. If the new evidence on weekly folic acid is assessed as adequately reducing the risk of NTDs, a guideline revision could be warranted and WIFAS could be presented to the MEML for the dual benefits of anemia reduction and NTD prevention. This inclusion could enable acceleration of implementing policies and programs to contribute to global anemia and NTD reduction efforts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)334-342
Number of pages9
JournalAdvances in Nutrition
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished or Issued - 1 Mar 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Essential Medicines List
  • Weekly Iron Folic Acid Supplementation (WIFAS)
  • anemia
  • folic acid
  • neural tube defects

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Nutrition and Dietetics

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