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Uzbekistan tackles iron deficiency

© UNICEF Uzbekistan/2005/ Haydarov
At a rural roadside market near Kokand in Ferghana Valley, Uzbekistan, a traditional bread retailer reads a brochure outlining the benefits of fortified flour.

As part of the launch of ‘Progress for Children No.4: A Report Card on Nutrition’, UNICEF is featuring a series of stories focusing on successful initiatives that can help counter the many threats to children's nutritional status.

TASHKENT, Uzbekistan, June 2006 – To reduce serious nutritional deficiencies among women and children, the Government of Uzbekistan, aided by industry contributions and international support, is implementing a national flour fortification programme that began in 2005, financed by a $2.8 million grant over a three-year period.

Studies in Uzbekistan estimate that almost 44 per cent of children under two years of ageare anaemic, increasing their likelihood of falling sick, and of having poor school attendance and performance. High rates of anaemia are also found among women of childbearing age.

“Iron-deficiency anaemia is a major cause of death amongst children at birth,” UNICEF Deputy Regional Director Shahnaz Kianian-Firouzgar said while visiting the country. “As well as having a debilitating impact on the health of children and women, it impacts the development of the brain, the productivity of adults and mental development in children. By addressing this deficiency in children, we can help them to realize their full potential for development and contribution to society.”

Flour fortification

When nutritional deficiencies are widespread, one of the most efficient and cost-effective methods of improving health is through the fortification of food products. For flour, this means adding iron, folic acid (one of the few nutrients known to prevent neural tube birth defects, such as spina bifida) and other necessary vitamins.

© UNICEF Uzbekistan/2005/ Haydarov
In July 2005, members of the Children’s Parliament of Uzbekistan visited merchants at Sergili market in Tashkent to emphasize the importance of using fortified flour.

A July 2005 event at the Galla-Alteg flour mill in Tashkent publicized the project, while emphasizing the importance of good nutrition. The event was preceded by a week-long awareness-raising campaign for bread retailers and the general public.

Members of the Children’s Parliament of Uzbekistan supported the programme, visiting stores where bread is sold, informing shopkeepers of fortified flour’s benefits, distributing leaflets, posters and stickers, talking to members of the public and writing articles for the press.

‘Spirit of collaboration’

The flour fortification programme is implemented by the Uzbekistan Ministry of Health, with support from the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), the World Bank and UNICEF. Plans include increasing the number of formerly state-run mills equipped to produce fortified flour from 14 to 48, and expanding the process to additional privately owned mills.

The programme aims to reach about 30 per cent of the overall population in its third year – an estimated 8 million people who are at risk of iron-deficiency anaemia. It is cost-effective, requiring only 120 Sums (around 10 cents) per person, per year.

The World Bank’s Country Manager for Uzbekistan, Martin Raiser, said the project is an  important part of a $40 million health initiative in the country. Mr. Raiser emphasized the need for the participation of all flour producers in Uzbekistan and praised the “spirit of collaboration” among the stakeholders.

Uzbekistan was the fourth country to benefit from a large-scale flour fortification programme run by GAIN, a public-private alliance that aims to contribute, by 2007, to improving the nutritional status of at least 600 million people in up to 40 developing countries – primarily through the fortification of commonly available and consumed local foods.



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