UNICEF cites ‘great progress’ on ending iodine deficiency, but children still at risk

UNICEF cites ‘great progress’ on ending iodine deficiency, but children still at risk

Women carrying salt at Puttalam Salt Production Welfare Society Ltd. (Sri Lanka)
Millions of children worldwide have been protected from iodine deficiency, which is the single greatest cause of preventable mental retardation, but many more are still at risk, according to a report released today by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Millions of children worldwide have been protected from iodine deficiency, which is the single greatest cause of preventable mental retardation, but many more are still at risk, according to a report released today by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

“This report shows how governments, the salt industry and communities, with UNICEF support, have made great progress over the past 20 years in eliminating iodine deficiency through universal salt iodization,” said Werner Schultink, UNICEF’s Associate Director of Nutrition. “But there is still much to do to ensure every child is protected.”

Mr. Schultink said that 34 countries had achieved universal salt iodization, but “there are still 38 million children born every year at risk of brain damage because of iodine deficiency so there’s no room for complacency in our efforts to combat the problem.”

Iodine Deficiency Disorders result from a diet low in iodine, which is particularly damaging during early pregnancy because it retards foetal development, especially brain development, causing a range of intellectual, motor and hearing deficits. However the problem is easily and inexpensively prevented by iodizing all salt for human and animal consumption.

UNICEF’s report notes that two global regions are close to the target of universal salt iodization – Latin America and the Caribbean, where 85 per cent of households consume adequately iodized salt, and East Asia and the Pacific, where the figure is 84 per cent.

The report focuses on five principles which it says are critical for successfully completing the global fight to eliminate iodine deficiency: political commitment from governments and industry; partnerships and coalitions between governments, donors and salt producers; the need to ensure the availability of iodized salt; strengthening of monitoring systems; and sustained education and communication efforts.