The Progress of Nations: Nutrition

Kenya and Nigeria iodize most salt

In 1993 and 1994, The Progress of Nations reported that lack of iodine was affecting the mental and physical development of approximately 50 million children, condemning tens of millions to mental retardation and causing an estimated 100,000 children a year to be born as cretins. The solution - iodizing all salt supplies - had been available for decades.

Over the last two years the picture has been changing rapidly. Statistics for 1996 are not yet available, but it is likely that salt iodization programmes have halved the number of children at risk.

The goal of 90% salt iodization in all affected countries by 1995 has been achieved by 19 nations, with 11 more passing the 70% mark - and in a strong position to achieve the year 2000 goal of all but eradicating iodine deficiency disorders. Kenya now iodizes virtually all salt supplies and Nigeria has reached 97%.

High figures for salt iodization are not the end of the story. Efficient monitoring, and public education about the importance of using only iodized salt, are also needed to ensure that the problem does not return by the back door.

Some countries are now keeping track of the number of households using iodized salt. Others monitor the percentage of salt being iodized at the point of production.

Photo: Bangladesh - half of children once at risk, but 62% of salt now iodized. ©

The salt record

Developing countries with the largest numbers at risk of iodine deficiency in 1990, and their current levels of salt iodization

Population at risk
1990 (millions)
% salt currently
Kenya 10100
Nigeria 2597
Cameroon 1095
Argentina 1090
Peru 1490
Mexico 2587
Brazil 8084
Iran 5082
Ethiopia 2575
India 27070
Nepal 1668
Tanzania 1065
Bangladesh 6062
China 38051
Indonesia 9550
Thailand 2050
Pakistan 5045
Viet Nam 1742
Philippines 1540
Turkey 2531
Syria 1217
Zaire 198
Myanmar 157
Sudan 240*

* All necessary equipment installed and supplies available. Iodization expected to begin early 1996.

NOTE Populations at risk are those living in areas where 5% or more of school-age children have goitre (the swelling of the thyroid gland which is often the most visible symptom of iodine deficiency). In recent years, it has become clear that iodine deficiency constitutes a serious problem before reaching the stage of this clinical manifestation.

SOURCES Populations at risk around 1990: Global Prevalence of Iodine Deficiency Disorders, WHO, UNICEF, and International Council for the Control of Iodine Deficiency Disorders, 1993. Salt iodization: data (mostly for 1995) supplied by UNICEF field offices and UNICEF Nutrition Section, February 1996.

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