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Kyrgyzstan enacts law on flour fortification to fight ‘hidden hunger’

© UNICEF/2009/Kira
Kyrgyzstan’s new flour-fortification law is designed to help resolve the problem of ‘hidden hunger’ among young children and pregnant women.

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan, 13 April 2009 – The Kyrgyz Republic recently became the 57th country in the world to approve legislation requiring flour fortification. Under the legislation, all flour producers in the country will have to fortify top-grade and first-grade flour with vitamins and minerals approved by authorized health agencies.

The new fortification requirements will not result in substantial price rise for flour.

The Law on Fortification of Baking Flour was designed to help resolve the problem of what specialists call ‘hidden hunger’ – which is caused by eating foods that are cheap and filling but deficient in essential vitamins and micronutrients. These deficiencies are especially dangerous for children, pregnant women and breast-feeding mothers in the country.

Consequences of vitamin deficiency
Solving the problem of micronutrient deficiency is one of the most urgent tasks in the Kyrgyz Republic, where ‘hidden hunger’ is common. At the end of 2008, the average prevalence of iron deficiency anaemia, for example, was 70 per cent among young children and 50 per cent among pregnant women in Kyrgyzstan.

Fortification of flour is one of the easiest strategies to combat vitamin deficiencies, as it improves the nutrition of adults and older children who eat bread, noodles and other wheat products.

Deficiencies in vital nutrients can lead to severe health problems in both adults and children, and can even cause permanent damage to developing children in utero. Iron deficiency alone leads to delayed intellectual and physical development in children, reproductive disorders among women, high maternal mortality, weakening of the immune system and a reduction in labour productivity.

© UNICEF/2009/Kira
Baking flour is fortified with micronutrients at small mill in Talas province, Kyrgyzstan, with UNICEF’s support.

Furthermore, a lack of sufficient folic acid intake among pregnant women can cause neural tube birth defects such as spina bifida, which results in permanent disabilities from an improperly formed spinal cord.

Years in the making
Even though flour fortification has multiple benefits, legislation often requires years of preparation. In the Kyrgyz Republic, the Asian Development Bank – with support from Japan – set the stage by initiating flour fortification. The Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) funded pilot projects and feasibility studies that proved the country had the capacity to fortify flour.

Flour-fortification advocates have pursued the cause in Kyrgyzstan for over 10 years, despite numerous political setbacks. During that time, UNICEF gave technical support to the local governments by implementing pilot projects in small flour mills, supporting the creation of the Association of Mills of Kyrgyzstan and aiding research on iron deficiency.

To promote the new legislation, public hearings were held in Bishkek, the capital, with support from the local media.

Parliamentarian Osmonbek Artykbaev became a key advocate for fortification, and was provided with important information about the prevalence of anaemia in Kyrgyzstan. As a result of all these efforts, the law on fortified flour was approved by a majority in February, and signed by the President on 17 March.



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