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Schools on the front line of the fight against iodine deficiency

© UNICEF India/2005/George
Schoolgirls in Tamil Nadu’s Tirunelveli district, queue up to have the salt they have brought from home tested. If the salt is iodized, it turns purple after a drop of starch solution is mixed with the salt, if not, it remains white.

By Thomas George, UNICEF India

TIRUNELVELI DISTRICT, India, 28 March 2005 – Vennila, in grade 5, watches a plate of salt she has brought from home with intense concentration. The headmaster of her government-run school also watches with concern, hoping for her sake that the sample will change colour to purple. However, the salt remains obstinately white.

Vennila breaks down in tears. Her friends gather around and comfort her, saying that the next time the salt test takes place, her sample will certainly turn purple. 

Vennila is not the only child who wants her salt to change colour; everybody in her class does. As her classmates queue up to have the salt they have brought from home tested, the air is charged with tension. The tension turns to relief for some, but leads to tears and despair for others.

The same riveting scene has been playing out in schools across Tamil Nadu, India, since November 2004. It is part of a UNICEF-supported campaign to support the universal use of iodized salt in the state.  

Testing salt for its iodine content is remarkably simple: A drop of starch solution is dropped into a teaspoon full of salt. If the salt is iodized, it turns purple, if not, it remains white. 

Tamil Nadu is the second largest producer of salt in the country, but only about 40 to 45 per cent of its population consumes iodized salt.

“I had never heard this word, ‘iodine’, before,” says Venilla’s mother, Mallika. “Now that you tell me, I will make sure that we use iodized salt.”

UNICEF is working with schools, government and non-governmental organizations in a country-wide campaign in order to eliminate Iodine Deficiency Disorders (IDD).

Sale of non-iodized salt is banned by the Directorate of Public Health. The Tamil Nadu Salt Corporation ensures that adequate quantities of iodized salt are available in the public distribution system. The mass media, including TV and newspapers, have given wide publicity to the various awareness campaigns and related events about IDD.

However, schools still remain the frontrunners in the campaign to eliminate IDD. Salt testing in schools has given a tremendous boost to public awareness of using iodized salt. “Now that we know about it, members of my Panchayat (rural county) will use only iodized salt in future,” declares B N Srinivasan, President of a Panchayat in Krishnagiri – another of Tamil Nadu’s districts.

UNICEF has distributed more than 40,000 salt testing kits to schools across Tamil Nadu. Each kit contains one 30 ml vial of starch solution and a booklet on IDD. Students are also educated to pass on the vital information about IDD to their parents and others at home.



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