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June 2007, Enriching flour – enriching lives, enriching Kyrgyzstan!

© UNICEF/Kyrgyzstan/Iskanderova

In Kyrgyzstan, every second child and very second woman suffers from anaemia which causes over a thousand deaths every year. Poor health and low productivity caused by micronutrient and vitamin deficiencies costs the country’s economy an estimated 55 million US dollars annually.

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan, 28 June 2007 - To tackle a high prevalence of anaemia in Kyrgyzstan, a bill “on enriching baking flour” was prepared and presented at Kyrgyzstan’s Parliament Jogorku Kenesh on 26 June 2007. The bill comes after ten years of research and study into the best way to solve the problem nutrient deficiency in the country.

The hall was overcrowded. Representatives of the civil society, media and international organizations took their seats together with the Parliament members and actively participated in the discussions. “I was close to tears when I saw a film about how many children and women suffer and die from anaemia in our country,” said Ms. Venera Jusupova from the Social Fund “Institution of Social Communications”.

The adoption of this new bill will make a big impact on the health of the population. According to a 2005 assessment of vitamin and mineral deficiency by UNICEF:

 Almost 20 per cent of Kyrgystan’s children growing up with lowered immunity, leading to frequent ill health and poor growth because of Vitamin A deficiency.
 An estimated 1,000 infant deaths each year in the period immediately before and after birth due to severe anaemia in the mother.
 Between 40 and 60 per cent of the nation’s 6-to-24 month-old children are at risk of disrupted brain development caused by iron deficiency.
 Iron and iodine deficiency leads to lowered productivity of adult work-force with loss to Kyrgyzstan estimated at almost 1 per cent of GDP.

In the 1990s, UNICEF initiated research into the prevalence of anaemia in women and children. Based on its findings, the Kyrgyz Ministry of Health with the support of international organizations has taken action to test three different internationally-recognized strategies:

 Supplementation – distribution of iron in syrup form
 Flour fortification – enrichment of flour products with vitamins and minerals
 Behaviour change through information and communication campaigns

Flour enrichment has proved to be very effective. A study conducted by the National Centre for Pediatrics and Child Surgery with support from UNICEF and Asian Development Bank revealed a 56 per cent decrease in the level of anaemia among women and children after consuming enriched flour for 12 months. In essence, the enriched flour gives back the wheat-grain’s natural vitamins and minerals which it has lost during processing into flour. What can be more safe and reliable than nature itself!

Kyrgyzstan is already making progress. The number of flour mills producing fortified flour has more than doubled in four years, from 10 flour mills in 2003 and 22 mills in 2007. Alexandre Shafner, the Head of the Kyrgyz Association of Flour Millers, said during the hearings: “Millers realize their social responsibility and are ready to support the initiative. Kyrgyzstan has already national standards for enriching baking flour and a system of internal and external control. The support that we need from the Government is to get this law passed and to create the economic incentives for millers to enrich the flour.”

The enrichment of baking flour has been used for more than 70 years in five continents by nations regardless of its economic situation. “This is because it is an effective and cheap intervention.  It is much cheaper to prevent anaemia than to cure it,” said Ms. Smaranda Popa, acting Representative of UNICEF in Kyrgyzstan. She also highly praised the work done by the law makers to date and pointed out: “The process of developing the legislative framework was thorough, participatory, and efficient and it shows the commitment of the lawmakers to contribute to a major issue of public health and particularly, of children’s health and wellbeing.”

The Head of the Parliament Committee for Health and Social Policy, Dr. Maripov, Parliament Member and only doctor in the Parliament, presented the law and appealed to his colleagues: “Adoption of this law is our number one strategic task. It is great that the state can get economic profits from better health status and labour productivity of the population, but  what is more important is that we can save human lives, even one of which is priceless, you know. We must pass this law as soon as possible because it ensures the saving of the gene pool and the future of our nation.”
The hearing ended in a unanimous commitment to get the law passed this autumn.



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