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At Clinton Global Initiative, partners pledge new support for fighting zinc deficiency

© UNICEF/NYHQ2009-1423/Markisz
At the 2009 Annual Meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative (from left), UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman, former US President Bill Clinton, International Zinc Association Executive Director Stephen Wilkinson and Teck Resources Limited President and CEO Donald Lindsay display a commitment to support the Zinc and Nutrition Initiative.

By Amy Bennett

NEW YORK, USA, 24 September 2009 – At the fifth Annual Meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) in New York, CGI hosted UNICEF and zinc industry partners today for the announcement of a unique effort aimed at eliminating zinc deficiency and improving food security in developing countries.

During a plenary session, UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman took the stage with former US President Bill Clinton, President and CEO Donald Lindsay of Teck Resources Limited and Executive Director Stephen Wilkinson of the International Zinc Association (IZA). They displayed a pledge commitment to support the Zinc and Nutrition Initiative.

Led by IZA with support and cooperation from Teck Resources, UNICEF and other partners, the nutrition initiative will work to ensure the survival, growth and development of children through improved zinc intake.

IZA – an industry association composed of senior executives from major zinc-related businesses – has announced an initial commitment of $5 million to help UNICEF scale up zinc supplementation in Nepal and Peru.

Zinc and nutrition
Mr. Clinton called for greater awareness and understanding of the importance of zinc in nutrition. “This is something 90 per cent of us are unaware of or wouldn’t have a clue as to what to do about it,” he said.

Zinc deficiency has been identified as a significant public health problem contributing to the deaths of about 450,000 children each year, and approximately 800,000 deaths overall. Worldwide, some 2 billion people are at risk of zinc deficiency.

But experience shows that it is possible to routinely deliver life-saving interventions – such as zinc sulphate supplements and oral rehydration salts – to children in the world’s poorest and most remote communities. Scaling up the use of therapeutic zinc could prevent an estimated 300,000 diarrhoea-associated child deaths annually.

“The Zinc and Nutrition Initiative announced today is designed to increase the intake of zinc in countries where it is most needed,” said Mr. Lindsay. “The use of zinc supplementation and zinc fertilizers can help save hundreds of thousands of children a year, and contribute to food security and increased production.”

Roll-out of supplements
Since the release of a 2004 UNICEF-World Health Organization Joint Statement recommending zinc supplementation and oral rehydration salts for the treatment of diarrhoea, about 50 governments have changed their child health policies to include zinc for diarrhoea management.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2009-1424/Markisz
Former US President Bill Clinton announces pledge commitments at the fifth Annual Meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative in New York City.

However, the actual roll-out of zinc supplements at the country level has been slow. Complications include the difficulty of changing health plans and treatment guidelines in some countries, as well as the challenge of ensuring an adequate supply of quality zinc supplements.

UNICEF has undertaken a range of activities with several partners in order to advance this process. Notably, the agency has taken a lead role in the procurement of zinc sulphate for distribution in the developing world.

As participants in the CGI event suggested, collaboration with the zinc industry will further accelerate the continuing reduction in deaths of children under the age of five. Beyond that, improved zinc nutrition will help lay the foundation for greater progress on child growth and development.



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