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India: Ban on production and sale of non-iodized salt will protect children

© UNICEF India/2005
India’s Minister for Health and Family Welfare Dr. A. Ramadoss watches a salt testing demonstration by girl guides. Indian schoolchildren routinely bring salt from home to have it tested for adequate iodine levels using UNICEF-supplied kits.

By Anupam Srivastav and Savita Naqvi

NEW DELHI, 24 June 2005 – In a move to protect the 25 million children born in India each year from brain damage and irreparable physical harm, the Government of India has reinstated a ban on the production and sale of non-iodized salt for human consumption.

Iodine deficiency is a primary cause of preventable mental retardation and brain damage. It also increases the chance of infant mortality, miscarriage and stillbirth.

India’s Minister for Health and Family Welfare Dr. A. Ramadoss said the ban, which becomes effective on national Independence Day, 15 August, will help deal with a major public health problem.

“Out of 312 districts surveyed by the Ministry of Health, 254 showed that people suffered from iodine deficiency,” said Dr. Ramadoss.

A group of boy scouts and girl guides attended the official announcement of the ban on 15 June, to demonstrate for the Minister and other dignitaries how they test salt for adequate iodine content.
It is now common practice for children in many parts of the country to take the salt they use at home to school to test for iodine content. The testing kits are provided by UNICEF as part of an initiative to mobilize children as promoters of iodized salt.

© UNICEF India/2005
Dr. Ramadoss announces the renewal of a ban on non-iodized salt for human consumption in India.

Correcting misconceptions

Surveys have shown that a previous ban encouraged almost half of the country’s population to use adequately iodized salt, but when the restrictions were lifted four years ago that figure fell to 37 per cent. The consumption of iodized salt is significantly lower among rural populations and poorer communities.

Commenting on the significance of the ban, UNICEF Representative in India Cecilio Adorna said, “All children have a right to enjoy a secure and healthy childhood so they can grow up to fulfil their full potential.” He appealed to all stakeholders – salt producers, traders, village level-vendors and the Government – to see that the implementation process is successfully achieved.

“Widespread information and education is needed to spread the message that iodizing salt is safe, simple and affordable,” he said.

Despite having the capacity to iodize 13 million tons annually, India is only producing about one third of that, well short of the 5 million tons a year its population requires.

Dr. C.S. Pandav, coordinator of the International Council for Control of Iodine Deficiency Disorders for South Asia, said that a likely reason for the low production is the misconception that producing iodized salt is expensive. “In reality, [producing] a lifetime’s supply of salt for one person costs no more than a cup of tea,” he said.



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