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UNICEF Issues Major Report on Iodine Deficiency Highlighting Principles for Success

New York, 26 June 2008 – UNICEF today issued a major report on Iodine Deficiency Disorders (IDD), the single greatest cause of preventable mental retardation, which looks at progress made in preventing the problem over the past two decades, lessons learned and guiding principles for future success.


IDD results from a diet low in iodine, which is particularly damaging during early pregnancy because it retards foetal development, especially brain development, causing a range of intellectual, motor and hearing deficits. However the problem is easily and inexpensively prevented by iodizing all salt for human and animal consumption, highlights the report, Sustainable Elimination of Iodine Deficiency.


“This report shows how governments, the salt industry and communities, with UNICEF support, have made great progress over the past 20 years in eliminating iodine deficiency through universal salt iodization,” said Werner Schultink, Associate Director of Nutrition, UNICEF. “But there is still much to do to ensure every child is protected.”


“Thirty-four countries have achieved universal salt iodization however there are still 38 million children born every year at risk of brain damage because of iodine deficiency so there’s no room for complacency in our efforts to combat the problem,” added Mr. Schultink.


“In 1989, Iran introduced a new programme to achieve universal salt iodization in the country, which effectively led to the elimination of IDD,” says Seyed E. Asaei, early childhood development specialist with UNICEF Iran. "The total goitre rate among schoolchildren fell from 68 per cent to less than 10 per cent, and consumption of adequately iodized salt in Iranian households went up to 98 per cent"


Some regions still face severe challenges and the report outlines five guiding principles based on the lessons learned over the past 20 years for successfully completing the global fight to eliminate IDD:

  • Secure political commitment: Robust, continuous government commitment and industry motivation are essential. 
  • Form partnerships and coalitions: Partnerships between governments and donors, between governments and salt producers, and among all those supporting elimination efforts need to be strengthened at all levels. 

  • Ensure availability of adequately iodized salt: The salt industry must recognize iodization as a fundamental responsibility; governments must work with salt producers to improve their capacity; and producers must maintain and improve this capacity. 

  • Strengthen monitoring systems: A continuous and effective monitoring system is essential. Three types of monitoring are needed, covering the salt iodization process from the factory to the household, the impact on a population’s iodine levels, and the overall sustainability of the programme.

  •  Maintain education and communication: Communication efforts should articulate concrete accountabilities and include specific messages tailored to the entire range of audiences, including national leaders, the salt industry, the media, technical and professional groups, teachers and families.





Additional Resources

Sustainable Elimination of Iodine Deficiency (Full Report)

Islamic Republic of Iran: Sustained political will brings a sustained turnaround (PDF)



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