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UNICEF/WHO: Too early to let down the ‘Iodine Deficiency Disorder’ guard in Viet Nam

Ha Noi, 02 November 2007 – One year after the announcement that iodine deficiency had been eliminated from Viet Nam, new data show that it is still a major problem and in some areas of the country the situation is even worsening.

“From the recently released data  we learn that the proportion of the population using iodized salt is decreasing”, said Dr. Jean-Marc Olivé, WHO Representative in Viet Nam. “After years of very successful programming in the country, this major public health problem appeared to be under control. The recent data however show that we must remain vigilant in our monitoring and control of IDD in Viet Nam, to ensure complete and sustained elimination.”

Iodine deficiency results in stunted physical and mental growth. Deficiency during pregnancy and early childhood can result in significant learning difficulties or a form of mental retardation known as cretinism. Other effects include increased risk of stillbirth, miscarriage, and goiter for women. 

It is estimated that iodine deficiency affects 740 million people in 130 countries. Yet prevention is simple, cheap and effective. Salt iodization is the most logical solution to IDD because salt is consumed by everyone, and iodized salt is safe, sustainable and inexpensive. Eliminating IDD through routine use of iodized salt promotes the health and wellbeing of women and children and is vital for Viet Nam in its strive to achieve all the Millennium Development Goals for all its people by 2015.

Current monitoring data indicate that IDD is returning in the country. In Mekong Delta provinces IDD continues to be a problem and instead of progress, the situation is worsening. Use of iodized salt is down by 20 per cent in Ho Chi Minh City – less than half of people use iodized salt – and only 18 per cent of pregnant women in Dong Thap receive an adequate intake of iodine.

The National Iodine Deficiencies Disorders Control programme (NIDDC) reached most of the goals that the Government targeted for the period 2001- 2005 on Universal Salt Iodization. The primary achievements were a result of nearly 15 years of commitment and efforts by the Government of Viet Nam under the leadership of the Ministry of Health. The Decree on Salt Iodization was passed in December 2005.

Despite these encouraging efforts by the Government, there is a need now to strengthen the control measures in the country and the United Nations in Viet Nam stands ready to fully support the Government in its efforts to do so. Achievement of a sustainable IDD control in Viet Nam is a challenge and requires constant effort and political commitment; investments and efforts so far will otherwise be lost.

Jesper Morch, Country Representative for UNICEF in Viet Nam reaffirms UN’s commitment in support to Viet Nam’s efforts.  “There can be no let-up in measures to control Iodine deficiency disorders,” he said. There must be clear and continuous guidance at the provincial level as they have been given the direct responsibility for IDD control as well as for coordination of all involved sectors. Together we can make sure that Viet Nam will be free from Iodine deficiency disorders.”

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