Regional Capacity Building Workshop for Flour Fortification
Solving the Challenge of Micronutrient Deficiencies
BAKU, September 2019 - Across the globe, about two billion people suffer from anaemia. Currently, anaemia caused by iron deficiency affects one in every three pregnant women in Europe and Central Asia and impacts the lives of up to 40 percent of children below the age of five in the region.
Healthy levels of micronutrients, like zinc, iron, and folic acid, are essential to healthy neural tube development in unborn children. This requires women to have a nutrient rich diet before pregnancy. Flour fortification, the addition of a small amount of micronutrients to flour, is a proven, effective approach to preventing micronutrient deficiencies and provides an automatic vitamin delivery system that does not require early screening or intervention.
The criticality of flour fortification was the theme of a regional capacity building workshop on flour fortification held in Baku in early September, 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.
“Fortification prevents disease, strengthens the immune system, and improves cognitive development. Fortifying flour with iron and other micronutrients has proven to be the most cost-effective way to reduce the prevalence of anaemia,” Edward Carwardine, UNICEF Representative to Azerbaijan reminded participants.
The effects of micronutrient deficiencies have far reaching implications for both health and economic prosperity on a national level. “Here in Azerbaijan, for example, UNICEF has calculated that introducing national flour fortification would result in a savings, through reduced health costs for treatment of conditions caused by iron deficiency and increased productivity amongst healthier women, of around US$15 million every year,” said Mr. Carwardine.
One advantage for Azerbaijan in the successful implementation of a national flour fortification program is that wheat flour is so widely consumed. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, Azerbaijan has on average the highest consumption of wheat flour in the world. The flour is already distributed, packaged and consumed. The only change that needs to happen is a procedural change at the mill and a food safety inspection for monitoring. Dramatic improvements to health can be made through changes in policy instead of relying on any kind of change in consumer habits.
“Adding micronutrients to the flour needs to be bound to strong legislation. Regionally, five countries have this legislation and they show great results in reducing anaemia,” explained Dr. Amirhossein Yarparvar, UNICEF Health and Nutrition Specialist for Europe and Central Asia. “In the last two years there has been great progress in Azerbaijan moving towards being the first country in the Caucasus to introduce legislation for flour fortification.”
Mr. Musa Guliyev, Deputy Chair of the Health Committee of Azerbaijan Parliament agreed. “We hope within a year to adopt a new law to support and implement flour fortification, so that together with our global partners, we will be able to solve this problem.”