All humans need iodine in their diet for proper intellectual development. Iodine can be found in food that is grown or raised on iodine-rich soil. But in areas where the soil lacks iodine – the case in a significant proportion of our region – adding iodine to salt is the answer. It is a safe, easy and effective way to make sure that we get enough iodine. At the end of the 1990s, our region had the world’s lowest levels of iodised salt consumption. Only 26% of people consumed iodised salt. Around 80% of babies born each year had no protection against iodine deficiency. Goitre is the most common and visible sign of ID. But far more damaging is the invisible loss of up to 15% of intellectual capacity. This undermines a child’s chances of becoming a productive and creative adult, and undermines their country’s chances of economic development.
In a region that needs every citizen to perform at peak capacity if it is to make lasting progress, iodine deficiency is a serious barrier to development. Yet it costs only a few cents per person per year to iodise salt – a small price to pay compared to the cost of lost potential. The only way to ensure that everyone has enough iodine in their diet is universal salt iodisation (USI). UNICEF backs the goal of eliminating ID through USI in the region by 2005.
As a result of advocacy by UNICEF and others, this region has made more progress than any other on iodine deficiency. The percentage of households using iodised salt rose to 48% in 2004. Seven countries have eliminated ID: the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro and Turkmenistan. Five are on track for elimination of ID in 2005: Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Lithuania and Romania, plus the UN Administered Province of Kosovo.