Health Week in Uzbekistan – learning about health giving nutrition can be fun
By Bobur Turdiev
TASHKENT, Uzbekistan, 13 June 2007 - The need for micronutrients for healthy growth and mental development is critical throughout the childhood years. Micronutrients such as iron and iodine are vital to help learning and the lack of them can compromise physical growth, intellectual development, as well as school performance.
These were the key messages of ‘Health Week’, a national information campaign aimed at schools throughout Uzbekistan, and joint initiative of UNICEF, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Public Education.
Between 30 April and 7 May 2007 almost 10,000 schools and nearly 6 million children in all corners of the country received important information about micronutrients and their role in daily life. During the week there was a special focus on raising the awareness of children of the importance of using flour which has been fortified with iron and other vital micronutrients and salt which has been iodized.
‘Health Week’ also provided an opportunity for pupils and teachers to engage in a variety of interactive and fun learning activities.
“All week we’ve had interesting lessons about healthy food.” said Bakhodir Tuichiev, a 5th grader from School Number 3 in Fergana city. “We played games, had fun quizzes and took part in drawing and writing competitions. We enjoyed all these activities and they taught us a lot about which foods are good for us and why it is important to use fortified flour and salt with iodine. After school I told my mother about the lesson and asked her to look out for the ‘Sog‘lom Mahsulotlat’ logo next time she buys flour or bread.”
Elmira, a tenth grader from the same school added, “Our teacher gave us colorful leaflets explaining how eating bread made from flour which has not been fortified with iron and vitamins or using salt without iodine could make it much harder for us to study and learn well. All the class was quite surprised by this. It really made us think.”
The statistics are indeed sobering; for instance, iron deficiency can lead to a reduction of 5-7 points in a young child’s IQ; 57 per cent of school-age children in Uzbekistan have anemia caused by iron deficiency and every day 380 babies are born with a high risk of slow development because of iodine deficiency.
“The great thing about this campaign,” said Rustam Haydarov, Communication and Marketing Officer for the National Flour Fortification Programme, “is that we have been able to get the kids really involved in learning and then use them to pass on important messages to their parents. This is crucial since it’s the parents who make the choice of which bread, flour or salt to buy in the market.”
The success of Health Week was the result of long and careful preparation. In the months before the campaign almost 1500 teacher educators and school principals from around the country attended workshops on how to teach pupils about nutrition and other health issues in a lively, interactive way. These experts then passed on these ideas and activities to many thousands of teachers in every oblast. More than 4 million copies of colorful posters and leaflets explaining the benefits of fortified flour and iodized salt were printed and distributed to all schools.
“Although the national Flour Fortification Programme has been a great success in Uzbekistan much of our imported flour is still unfortified so it is very important that people are aware of the difference between the two. With salt too we really need to get the message across,” said Rustam Haydarov.
“Health Week has helped us reach millions of families and hopefully the kids and their teachers have found out that health education can be fun!”