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New UNICEF report reveals progress made in reducing iodine deficiency

© UNICEF/HQ05-1805/ Pirozzi
Zhenya, 8, is examined by Dr. Nataliya Fedoseeva at the Kharkiv Specialized Centre for Medical Genetics in Ukraine. Zhenya suffers from iodine deficiency disorder, which can lead to physical and mental disabilities if left untreated.

By Chris Niles

NEW YORK, USA, 26 June 2008 – A new UNICEF report reveals that, over a period of almost two decades, enormous progress has been made in protecting children and mothers from the debilitating effects of iodine deficiency disorders (IDD).

Two decades ago, only 20 per cent of households were receiving sufficient levels of iodine. At the time, IDD was a public health problem affecting an estimated 2 billion people.

Thanks to a global campaign by UNICEF and its partners, about 70 per cent of households are now receiving iodine through iodised salt, and 34 countries have universal salt iodisation.

Public health success

The results of the campaign are reported in ‘Sustainable Elimination of Iodine Deficiency’, released by UNICEF today.

“The progress it represents cannot be overstated. It is probably one of the biggest public health success stories of the last decades,” said UNICEF Nutrition Associate Director Werner Schultink.

Iodine, which regulates the thyroid gland, is essential for normal development. Lack of it can contribute to goitre (swelling in the neck), still-births and mental disabilities. 

A key to progress against IDD has been the work of successful partnerships, such as collaborations with the International Council for the Control of Iodine Deficiency Disorders and Kiwanis International.

UNICEF has also worked closely with local industries and advocated with governments on the importance of iodising salt. The iodine program has achieved success even in countries with many development challenges, such as Bangladesh. And its example has led to countries seeing the benefits of other types of food fortification, such as adding iron and folic acid to flour.

There are, however, a number of countries, such as Haiti and Sudan, that have not seen significant gains – and that’s where the focus will shift to in the coming years.

Reaching the next goal

“If we are able to tackle the situation in a group of about 13 to 15 countries, we will be able to increase the coverage worldwide of the use of adequately iodised salt by above 80 per cent,” Mr. Shultink said. “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.”

UNICEF is working with the Global Alliance of Improved Nutrition and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to achieve this goal.

“We hope that over the next three to five years, we will be able to make another significant step towards achieving that higher rate of coverage,” Mr. Shultink said.






13 June 2008:
UNICEF Nutrition Associate Director Werner Schultink discusses the success of a global campaign to iodise salt.
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