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Twenty years after the Chernobyl accident iodine deficiency continues to undermine children's health.

Twenty years after the Chernobyl accident iodine deficiency continues to undermine children's health.

The Government of Ukraine has to fulfil its commitment to prevent children from iodine deficiency disorders.

Kyiv, 27 March 2006- Twenty years after the Chernobyl accident iodine deficiency continues to put thousands of children in Ukraine at risk of avoidable illnesses, says UNICEF. Unfortunately, the Government of Ukraine has failed to fulfil its commitment to protect children from iodine deficiency disorders.

Iodine deficiency contributed to the devastating effects of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Low iodine status has left Ukrainians more susceptible to the radioactive iodine that was released during the explosion, which led to an upsurge in thyroid cancer. "Some 4,000 children developed thyroid cancer as a result of the Chernobyl nuclear accident and that number could have been significantly lower if children had been consuming iodised salt in their daily diet at the time of disaster", said Jeremy Hartley, UNICEF Representative in Ukraine. "This clearly shoes that prevention measures are crucial for combating diseases and specifically those related to iodine deficiency in Ukraine".

The Chernobyl affected areas of Ukraine were iodine deficient before the disaster and are still iodine deficient today as is the whole territory of Ukraine. However, despite numerous commitments made by the Government of Ukraine to eliminate iodine deficiency, legislation for the universal iodisation of salt is still being debated.

UNICEF is urging the Government to adopt the strategy of universal salt iodisation because salt is a common food consumed by everybody on daily basis as apart of their diet and salt consumption is not related to economic or social status of the consumer. Iodised salt is the most cost-effective, safe, efficient and sustainable method to introduce iodine into the diet.

However, recent surveys indicate that only one-third of householders in Ukraine use iodised salt. Lack of iodine impairs normal brain development and is the world leading cause of brain damage in newborns. It also causes medical conditions such as goitre - the swelling of the thyroid gland - and is known to contribute to physical stunting amongst children.

According to experts, some 274,000 babies born each year in Ukraine are at risk of mental retardation as a result of iodine deficiency, while the majority of school age children are iodine deficient. Lack of iodine causes a reduction in IQ by as much as 15 per cent, seriously undercutting the intellectual capacity of the entire country.

"Children from poor rural communities are the most vulnerable to iodine deficiency", said Hennadiy Kofman, civil activist and director of the film Chernobyl: The Zone of Nonsense, made this month. "In our film we show villages near Chernobyl where you cannot buy iodised salt. Rural dwellers also do not have enough reliable information on iodine deficiency. Give people the facts and they can make informed decisions about their health and the health of their children".

The economic gains of universal salt iodisation for Ukraine are also significant. The results of a cost benefit analysis show that eliminating iodine deficiency would increase economic productivity by US$ 34 million in Ukraine over the next five years, and help to boost the national economy by lowering health care costs and increasing labour productivity. In other words, universal salt iodisation is not only an effective preventive public measure but also a good investment for the country.

The elimination of iodine deficiency disorders through universal salt iodisation is globally recognised as one of the most cost effective means to contribute to economic and social development. Future generations of Ukraine are at stake. UNICEF calls on the Government of Ukraine to pass a law to make the iodisation of all salt mandatory and therefore both protect all newborns from brain damage due to iodine deficiency and reduce the risk of thyroid cancer.

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 For more information: Dmytro Konyk, Communication Officer, UNICEF Ukraine Tel: (+380) 44 230 25 14, E-mail: dkonyk@unicef.org

 

 
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