Working Towards Universal Salt Iodization in oPt
JERUSALEM, 14 June 2005 - Nestled in a restricted military area along the shores of the Dead Sea, the West Bank Salt Works is the lone Palestinian-owned salt producer. With an output of about 400MT-a-month, the family-owned company commands a 50 percent market share in the West Bank.
The factory tries to play an important role in the nutritional well-being of Palestinian children – through ensuring that every bag of salt leaving the factory contains iodine.
Currently, the factory adds iodine to salt in the form of Potassium Iodate (KIO3) – which is added at the rate of 50mg per kilogram and in line with global guidelines.
On a recent summer morning, Factory owner Husam Hallak toured a small delegation from the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and UNICEF. Along the way he pointed to a small pump that emits small drops of iodine into salt passing quickly along a conveyor belt. Almost apologetically he says: “We need a better mechanism than this. A finer quality dosage is needed and I don’t know if a better method is out there.”
Hallak adds: “We are not yet at a point where we can properly control the proper amount of iodine in our salt. The factory says it needs iodized salt test kits to monitor the production of iodized salt.
Visitors looking at the trembling iodine pump could be forgiven for thinking that such a simple process goes such a long way in protecting children.
According to UNICEF, it only costs $890 for a rotary-drum salt iodization machine to add the nutrient to salt.
However sub-standard paper packaging allows iodine to escape from the salt. The factory recently introduced plastic packaging but the owners say there is some education of consumers to be done - as many seem unwilling to switch from more traditional paper packaging.
Hallak says: “As a manufacturer you have a moral responsibility when it comes to iodizing salt. You have to have a good iodine adding process. You can’t escape it.”
Indeed, more than 41 million infants are born each year into households without iodized salt.
In oPt, less than 40 percent of households use iodized salt – which puts it far behind the neighboring countries of Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt.
Iodine deficiency is a serious problem in oPt. Statistics from the year 2000 show that more than 15% of the children at school age have goiter. The southern West Bank and the Jericho districts are the most affected, with the prevalence of goiter in these areas going up to two-thirds of children.
One kilogram of KIO3 costs $25, and at current levels of production, the factory would need to spend more than US$11,000 annually to continue iodization.
UNICEF is considering a number of initiatives to assist the factory. One is to procure several test kits – that can be used not only during production but also by distributors and government inspectors. At less than a dollar each, they provide incredible value. Another proposal is to produce awareness-raising materials promoting the benefits of iodized salt.