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New campaign helping to achieve universal salt iodization in rural Nepal

© UNICEF Nepal/2006
District coordinator for the Iodized Salt Social Marketing Campaign Shaligram Sapkota asks the local villagers in Kuwagaon to bring their salt so that he can show them whether it contains adequate iodine.

By Robin Giri

KAPILVASTU, Nepal, 26 June 2006 – On a hot afternoon, a red land cruiser drives into the dusty village of Kuwagaon, rural Nepal. Curious children start running after the vehicle, and by the time it parks in a mango grove, many men, women and children are gathered around.

Upon arrival, Shaligram Sapkota, district coordinator for UNICEF’s local partner – the Iodized Salt Social Marketing Campaign (ISSMAC) – immediately organizes his team to set up an audio-visual system. Loud music and songs attract even more villagers.

After the crowd has settled down, Mr. Shaligram begins to tell them about the importance of iodine.

© UNICEF Nepal/2006
Testing shows the local villagers that the salt they are currently consuming is not adequately iodized.

“Do you know about the benefits of iodized salt in your diet?” he yells above the chatter of villagers. “The lack of iodine leads to many diseases. Once contracted, they can never be cured even if you go to the best doctor.”

Iodine deficiency can lead to brain damage for children, and loss of health and productivity for adults. Yet many villagers here only consume non-iodized salt, which they purchase at a lower price from neighbouring India.

After Mr. Shaligram's speech, a 25-minute teleplay is shown to the audience. The video is lively and entertaining, further emphasizing that the villagers should always use salt that is fortified with adequate iodine.

Universal salt iodization by 2008

“All right, now go and get me some of the salt that you use in your homes,” says Mr. Shaligram. Some in the crowd run to their homes and return with their salt.

© UNICEF Nepal/2006
Villagers of Kuwagaon watch a video to learn the benefits of using packaged iodized salt.

As the crowd watches closely, Mr. Shaligram adds a chemical to samples of salt from the villagers and from his package of iodized salt. The iodized salt turns purple, but the samples from the villagers do not change colour.

“Salt that contains iodine changes colour – this means that [the salt] you are consuming does not contain any iodine,” he tells the crowd.

He then tells them that although iodized salt may be a bit more expensive, the benefits are countless.

“Now I will consume the iodized salt, because it’s good for us and our health,” says villager Harihar Yadav after watching the teleplay and demonstration. “I will also tell the others about the benefits of using iodized salt,” he continues.

In order to achieve universal salt iodization in Nepal by 2008, the travelling campaign, which has proven to be hugely popular among rural Nepalese, is helping to promote the use of packaged iodized salt.
“I never realized that iodine was so vital for my child’s development,” says villager Majhlen Badai. “So what if it costs a little more? My child’s health is much more precious than that.”

Sabine Dolan contributed to this story from New York.




June 2006:
UNICEF correspondent Kun Li reports on Nepal’s efforts to promote the use of iodized salt in rural villages.
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