Regional partners call for fortification of staple foods to improve maternal and newborn nutrition

09 September 2019

BAKU, September 9, 2019 –  A regional workshop on planning, implementing and monitoring the fortification of flour – to tackle micronutrient deficiencies in Europe and Central Asia – started here today.  The five-day event is being jointly organized by UNICEF and the Food Fortification Initiative (FFI), with additional support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and in partnership with the Azerbaijan Food Safety Agency. 

UNICEF Representative in Azerbaijan, Edward Carwardine, said the workshop was timely.  “In our region, anaemia affects one in every three pregnant women, which has a direct impact on the health of both the mother and her baby,” he said.  “Fortifying flour with iron and other micronutrients has proven to be the most cost-effective way to reduce the prevalence of anaemia.”

It is also estimated that iron-deficiency affects the health and wellbeing of up to 40 percent of children under the age of 5 in the Europe and Central Asia Region.

Amirhossein Yarparvar, Health and Nutrition Specialist, UNICEF Europe and Central Asia Regional Office, said that accelerating efforts to address micronutrient deficiencies, including anaemia, remained a public health priority in the Caucasus and Central Asia.  “With the exception of Central Asia, no sub-region has managed to reduce these rates since 2000,” he added.

The workshop in Baku is bringing together flour fortification experts – including representatives of the milling industry and governmental entities – from Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan to learn more about planning and implementing efficient flour fortification programmes, and to strengthen the production, distribution and consumption of fortified flour in these countries.

Mr. Goshgar Tahmazli, Chairman of the Food Safety Agency of the Republic of Azerbaijan (AFSA), said that today micronutrient deficiencies, which affect one-third of the world's population, are caused by iron, vitamin A and iodine deficiency, with iron deficiency, being the most common. According to him, 2 billion people around the world suffer from anaemia…with deficiency of iron leading to the development of iron-deficiency anaemia. This affects the health of women, weakens the immune system of their children, impacts their physical and intellectual development leads to increased risk of getting infections. Nowadays, it is important to overcome this problem in our country and steps are being taken in this direction. The most effective way of eliminating deficiencies of vitamins and minerals, which are widespread among the population, is the fortification of staple foods, he said.

“In this region, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan have long-standing flour fortification programmes, and Kazakhstan has extensive experience with flour fortification,” said Scott J. Montgomery, FFI Director. “This workshop will build the capacity for all the represented countries to benefit from fortification which is a proven strategy for people to be smarter, stronger, and healthier.”

Flour fortification, which involves adding vitamins and minerals to flour, is an effective strategy to prevent micronutrient deficiencies  Together, these supplements can prevent diseases, strengthen immune systems and improve cognitive development which, in turn, can contribute to improved educational performance and increased productivity in adult life. 

A recent analysis undertaken in Azerbaijan showed that anaemia affects about 40 percent of women and about a quarter of children in the country.  It is estimated that the economic benefit of flour fortification would equal 11 times the cost of introducing fortification, a dividend that could have significant impact on the country’s economic growth, as well as social development.

Media Contacts

Ayna Mollazade

Communication and Partnership Specialist

UNICEF Azerbaijan

Sarah Zimmerman

FFI Communications Coordinator

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