UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Sir Roger Moore promotes salt iodization in India
By Nadya Kassam and Savita Naqvi
His one-day stopover in the capital of Rajasthan, a major salt-producing state, included meetings with senior officials, children, and visits to salt iodization projects around the city.
On Tuesday in New Delhi, Sir Roger addressed the Hindustan Times Leadership Forum, organized by one of India’s leading daily newspapers. Started in 2003, the forum brings together leaders in politics, industry, media and sport. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram, and former US Secretary of Defence William Cohen were among the participants.
“Iodine deficiency disorder is a silent emergency that affects millions of children across the world. However, with education and awareness, children have the ability to thrive and even educate their parents,” Sir Roger said.
“There can be no peace, no security, no sustainable development without putting children first,” he added. And because children are children and don’t have organised lobbies to voice their views, it is important for civil society to stand up and end these “silent emergencies.”
India is the third-largest producer of salt in the world after China and the USA, with annual output of 14 million tonnes. Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan are major salt-producing states, accounting for about 70%, 15%, and 10%, respectively, of total production.
Iodine deficiency is the single largest cause of preventable mental retardation. Of 26 million children born in India each year, half are unprotected against iodine deficiency disorder, whose symptoms also include deaf-mutism and severely depleted levels of productivity. It can reduce IQ levels by between 10 and 15 per cent.
Cecilio Adorna, UNICEF India Representative, said that Rajasthan had the leadership required to make Universal Salt Iodization a reality. “Rajasthan could be a role model for other Indian states,” he said. More work was needed on quality control, and in raising public awareness about the risks of using non-iodized salt, he said.
Sir Roger and Lady Moore visited a primary school in Bhamoria district, which has had a comprehensive awareness-raising programme on iodized salt. Two young girls, Seema and Kiran, demonstrated how they tested salt for iodine levels. They also visited a mid-day meal project, which provides lunches for over 300,000 children each day using adequately iodized salt.
Sir Roger met with salt producers, local NGOs, government officials and civil society organizations in Jaipur to discuss problems faced by producers, costs associated with the production and distribution of iodized salt, and their plans for achieving 100 per cent coverage.
At a press conference to end his visit, he emphasized the need to advocate for children and to be their voice, calling on members of the press to look at salt iodization as a national development issue. One journalist asked Sir Roger the secret of looking so young. “Iodized salt!” Sir Roger replied.