Protecting early brain development through salt iodization
The global campaign to eliminate iodine deficiency
In September 1990, the largest gathering of world leaders ever assembled came to the United Nations in New York, adopting a Declaration on the Survival, Protection and Development of Children and a Plan of Action for implementing it over the next decade. An important part of the world leaders’ vision was the virtual elimination of iodine deficiency, the world’s leading cause of preventable mental impairment. Through a global movement to universally add iodine to edible salt, world leaders saw that they could protect the developing brains of children, adding billions of intelligence quotient points to the world.
Today, that goal has been achieved in many countries, with iodized salt now available to 86 per cent of the world’s households and increasingly in use throughout the food industry. This improvement in iodine nutrition translates into a near elimination globally of new cases of cretinism, the most serious form of iodine deficiency. It has decreased the incidence of goiter and adverse pregnancy outcomes such as stillbirths, while protecting the intellectual capacity of hundreds of millions of children worldwide, with a significant impact on the lives of future generations.
In the context of this global campaign, this report documents a part of that story: the work of the UNICEF-GAIN Partnership Project, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation from 2008 to 2015, to improve iodine nutrition through salt iodization in 13 priority countries, as well as regionally and worldwide. The report highlights the success of the global effort to eliminate iodine deficiency disorders (IDD) as a public health problem. We hope that the report will provide insights on how to better target programme vulnerabilities, sustain our successes, and ensure that future generations are protected against the debilitating effects of IDD.