June 2006, Fortified food can significantly improve child survival in Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyzstan is finally set to join the growing list of countries worldwide where people consume only iodized salt. This means that soon, children in Kyrgyzstan will be protected from debilitating deficiencies, including the loss of cognitive ability and intellectual capacity which can be as great as five per cent in children whose diets lack an adequate amount of iodine. Equally devastating and life threatening is the occurrence of anemia, which is also being tackled via fortification techniques, particularly by supplementing flour with vitamins and minerals that help to ensure that mothers and children receive the proper amount of iron required to maintain their strength and health.
Presently, inadequate diets lacking the proper balance of vitamins and minerals is a major cause of 60 per cent of child deaths in Kyrgyzstan. Fortifying salt with iodine and flour with a mixture of vitamins and minerals means that of the 18 child deaths that happen every day in this country, 10 can be prevented alone by the improved diet, especially children and pregnant women.
This week marks an especially important stepping stone to saving the lives of children and women in Kyrgyzstan as the Workshop on Monitoring and Evaluation of Programmes on Universal Salt Iodization and Prevention of Iron Deficiency Anemia kicks off Tuesday, June 26. With support from UNICEF, the Kyrgyzstan National Fortification Alliance is holding the workshop in order to accelerate the fortification of salt and flour. Various partners – including local public health officials, international experts, and representatives from the local salt industry and flour mills – will gather to build consensus on how each will participate in the capacity building of the country in its efforts to improve the nutrition of children and women and monitor fortification efforts, specifically addressing compliance among salt producers and flour mills and ways in which to encourage families to put fortified foods on the dinner table.
According to the Micronutrient Initiative, iron deficiency places approximately 40 to 60 percent of the nation’s 6 to 24 month-old children are at risk of impaired brain development. Iodine deficiency, which as mentioned already also affects brain development, is noted as a major cause in the high rate of goitre in Kyrgyzstan as well – some 20 percent of the total population are affected. Since 2004, the National Fortification Alliance of the Kyrgyz Republic (created by the Office of the Prime Minister), with support from UNICEF, has given major priority to developing effective data gathering and monitoring methods, which not only helps to provide information on the health and nutritional needs of those most vulnerable, but also serves to safeguard the progress already made and prevent any decline in improved coverage and consumption of fortified foods.