Alfred Sommer, Professor of Epidemiology and International Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health made an unexpected and striking discovery, and went on to demonstrate, that vitamin A supplementation has the power to save children's lives.
Initially engaged in a study to prevent childhood blindness through vitamin A supplementation in Indonesia, Sommer was startled to find that children in the study who received the vitamin were not only retaining their vision, they were dying at much lower rates than children who received a placebo.
This result was initially met with widespread skepticism because the effect seemed so powerful. No one, however, was more demanding of proof than Sommer himself. He replicated his research in Nepal and in Africa and showed that even mild vitamin A deficiency significantly increases childhood mortality.
More importantly, Sommer demonstrated unequivocally that the debilitating effects of vitamin A deficiency could be promptly and permanently reversed by oral supplements of vitamin A at an annual cost of only four to six cents per child. It is hard to imagine a more dramatic instance of scientific research directly adding years to life on such a wide scale and at such a low cost.
Sommer made the crucial initial discovery, proved the case in randomized field trials, designed and tested a cost-effective intervention, and championed its routine adoption in affected countries around the world. As a result, millions of children's lives have been saved and millions more stand to benefit in the future.
Sommer’s achievement has been recognized by the Helmut Horten Medical Research Award (1997), the Lasker Prize for Medical Research (1998), the Warren Alpert Foundation Prize (2003), and the Fries Prize for Improving Health (2008), among many others.