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1 November 2004, Salt iodization, Turkmenistan


Address by Maria Calivis, UNICEF Regional Director for Central and Eastern Europe, the Commonwealth of Independent States and the Baltics.

Ashgabat, 1 November, 2004

Excellency Ms. Trecy Jacobson, US Ambassador in Turkmenistan, Representatives of the Media, Ladies and Gentlemen:

I am delighted to be here on such an important day. For today, Turkmenistan becomes the first country in Central Asia – and only the fourth worldwide – to achieve virtual elimination of iodine deficiency disorders (IDD). Today, Turkmenistan takes it place in the vanguard of the global effort to roll back IDD, the world’s leading cause of preventable mental retardation.

IDD can reduce intellectual capacity by up to 15 per cent, but can be prevented by just a teaspoonful of iodine, consumed over an entire lifetime. The most cost-effective and efficient way of delivering this iodine is to add it to domestic salt, at a cost of just five US cents per person, per year.

We are here to celebrate Turkmenistan’s achievement of universal salt iodisation. The country has reached this goal one year ahead of the target date set at the UN General Assembly Special Session on Children in 2002, when world leaders agreed to strive for Universal Salt Iodisation (USI) by the year 2005.

The whole issue of IDD and its impact on entire nations was put on the table at the World Summit for Children as long ago as 1990. Then, world leaders resolved to virtually eliminate Iodine Deficiency Disorders (IDD) by the year 2000. The countries of Central Asia, still struggling to recover from the impact of a decade of social and economic transition, could not meet this deadline. More sustained action and effort was needed. The Special Session on Children gave new momentum to the fight against IDD

Key players came together to push for the elimination of micronutrient deficiencies across Central Asia: UNICEF, the Asian Development Bank, United States Agency for International Development, and the Centres for Disease Control, Atlanta, mounted an intensive programme to combat the scourge of IDD.

Turkmenistan has demonstrated great political commitment to the elimination of IDD by introducing and enforcing the necessary legislation and regulations for universal salt iodization. In 1996, the President of Turkmenistan issued a mandatory decree that made the production of non-iodized salt illegal across the country. In 1998 the government removed tariffs and taxes related to the production of iodized salt. And the government set up an effective monitoring and evaluation system for the salt produced in the national salt factory to ensure that the highest standards are met.

The road to this achievement has been made easier by the support of UNICEF, WHO, ICCIDD, USAID, CDC, Gates Foundation, and the Kiwanis. These organizations and agencies have worked together to support salt iodization across the CEE/CIS and Baltics region with total funding of  $10,345,000 since the year 2000. The success we are celebrating today has been greatly facilitated by their outstanding contributions.

The achievement of Universal Salt Iodization by Turkmenistan comes at a critical time, as other countries make their push for achievement of the goal by the target date of 2005. And it paves the way for similar efforts on other micronutrient deficiencies, such as the deficiencies in iron and vitamin A that are also so prevalent across this region.

As the recent Vitamin and Mineral Deficiency global progress report concluded: 

“After a decade of dramatic developments, the facts are known, the solutions available, and the cause is one in which many individuals and organizations – governments, the private sector, the medical and scientific community, civil society – can become involved. The challenge is therefore clear. And when so much could be achieved for so many and for so little, it would be a matter of global disgrace if VMD were not brought under control in the many years immediately ahead.”

Ladies and gentlemen: It is vital that this great achievement – the universal iodisation of salt – is now sustained. And that means forever. This will require continuous communication, social mobilization, and effective monitoring and evaluation.

We can build on this success in our efforts to ensure survival of children and to bring down the rate of child mortality in Turkmenistan. It opens the door for the fortification of flour with iron, folic acid, and zinc. There is no doubt that, having achieved universal salt iodisation, Turkmenistan is well placed to achieve 100 per cent fortification of wheat flour with life-saving micronutrients.

I strongly believe that the work of recent years to combat iodine deficiency, and the ongoing work to tackle other micronutrient deficiencies will bring us the greatest imaginable returns on our investment: children who are happy, vigorous, healthy and smart – children who are able to reach their full potential.

On behalf of UNICEF, I wish to congratulate the Government of Turkmenistan on this great achievement.  Thank you.




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