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Experts gather to discuss remaining pockets of iodine deficiency in China

BEIJING, 30 July 2007- Vice-Minister of Health Wang Longde opened a meeting today of national and international experts who gathered in Beijing to discuss global progress on iodine deficiency disorder (IDD). The meeting brought together officials from the China Ministry of Health, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), board members of the Network for Sustained Elimination of Iodine Deficiency, academics and the private sector at a critical moment in the fight to eliminate IDD in China.

China has been a global leader in the introduction of universal salt iodization, raising household coverage of iodized salt from around 40 per cent in 1995 to the target of 90 per cent in 2005. The Network Board acknowledged this achievement at today’s meeting. However, certain western and coastal provinces have been slow to adopt the use of iodized salt and up to 130 million Chinese are still at risk of iodine deficiency.

UNICEF Representative to China, Dr. Yin Yin Nwe said today: “We met to discuss solutions to the problems certain provinces have in reducing the risk of iodine deficiency. Although China’s achievements in raising levels of consumption of iodized salt are outstanding, many people here are still consuming un-iodized salt.”

Some communities cannot afford the slightly higher cost of refined, packaged iodized salt or prefer traditional salt produced locally. Experts today discussed alternatives to give these communities access to adequate sources of iodine, such as subsidies to reduce the cost of packaged iodized salt, strategies to iodize locally produced traditional salt or the interim use of iodized oil capsules.

Iodine deficiency is an important health issue wherever natural sources of dietary iodine are lacking. Iodine is critical for normal growth and development and deficiency during pregnancy and early childhood can result in reduced intelligence or a form of mental retardation known as cretinism. In areas where it is common, including many parts of China, iodine deficiency commonly causes swelling of the thyroid gland at the front of the neck, or goiter.Today, IDD affects 740 million people in 130 countries.

The Chairperson of the Network Board and UNICEF Director of Programmes, Mr. Alan Court, expressed confidence at the outcome of today’s meeting: “The attendance of Vice-Minister Wang and the quality of the discussion both indicate the high priority given to this issue by the Chinese government. Whilst ultimately we all agree that universal consumption of iodised salt is the best way to avoid iodine deficiency, we know from many countries that in some areas it takes time to achieve this. The meeting today gives me great hope that those people remaining at risk for iodine deficiency in China will benefit quickly from the options and ideas discussed, and from the government’s commitment to eliminating this problem.”

UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence.  The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS.  UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.

For further information, please contact:

Ms. Lilian Selenje (English) Tel: (86-10) 65323131 Ext. 1602, Cell: +13521838262, lselenje@unicef.org

Ms. Liu Li (Chinese/English) Tel: (86-10) 65323131 Ext. 1303, Cell:  +13701066671, liliu@unicef.org




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