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School children across Lao PDR help test salt for iodine

Salt iodization key to elimination of public health danger

© UNICEF/Jim Holmes 2005
A group of Lao schoolchildren in Xieng Khouang Province discover whether their family's salt contains sufficient iodine. Lao PDR is aiming to be second country after China to eliminate iodine deficiency disorders.

VENTIANE, 1 April 2005 – School children across the Lao PDR are helping the government this week with the push to wipe out iodine deficiency disorders by the target date of 2006. In all 142 districts of the country, children are bringing salt from home to school where it is being tested to determine if it meets national standards for iodization.

According to UNICEF project officer Intong Keomoungkhoune, this is the first nationwide survey of its kind in the country: “Three schools in every district are participating.  Teachers have played a crucial role in mobilizing students, and children enjoy testing the salt and understand the reason for this very quickly. Not only will the exercise tell us where people still need good quality salt, but it will reinforce the government’s message that iodized salt is extremely important for good health, particularly for women and children.”

Lao PDR identified iodine deficiency disorders as a public health emergency ten years ago when a survey of school-aged children found that 95% of them did not have sufficient iodine, and 65% had severe deficiencies.  Iodine is an essential micro-nutrient the body requires in tiny doses for healthy brain development. Lack of iodine can cause severe mental retardation, loss of IQ (intelligence quotient) as well as goitres – swelling of the thyroid gland in the neck - and birth complications.   The country is aiming to be the second nation in the region after China to achieve virtual elimination of iodine deficiency disorders by 2006.

The salt survey currently underway through the schools has been organized by the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education to identify high risk areas where coverage remains low and sub-standard salt is still being used.

Lao PDR is particularly at risk given its landlocked mountainous terrain where iodine is not well retained in the soil and rural populations’ insufficient access to iodine through their food sources. Salt was identified as the best way of including iodine in traditional diets, and in1995 the government adopted an official government decree requiring that iodine be added to all salt produced and sold in the country. UNICEF and Kiwanis International, together with the Ministry of Industry and Handicrafts and the Ministry of Health, have been helping salt factories meet the technical requirements of the law. Today more than 90% of salt produced in Lao PDR is now iodized.

According to UNICEF, micronutrient deficiencies affect not only health but also social and economic development.  Populations’ lack of access to vitamin A, iron and iodine, can lead to a reduction in national economic growth of as much as 5 percent.

For more information, please contact:

Ruth Landy, UNICEF Communication, Mobile 020 551 9681

Dr Dominique Robez-Masson, UNICEF Survival, Growth & Development, Mobile 020 552 1231

Dr Intong Keomoungkhoune, UNICEF Survival, Growth & Development, Mobile 020 552 1164




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