These four brothers work at a salt factory in Pakistan. Two of them suffer from cretinism, caused by iodine deficiency. All the brothers ensure they use iodized salt in their households to prevent cretinism in the next generation and give their children the iodine they need for intellectual development.
With two-thirds of children in Pakistan suffering from Iodine Deficiency Disorders, which can lead to IQs as many as 13 points lower than children with sufficient iodine, there is a pressing need for improved micronutrient programming to address iodine deficiency.
“The truly sad part about this is that iodine deficiency disorders are avoidable,” said Micronutrient Initiative Pakistan director Dr. Noor Ahmad Khan. “It takes only a small amount of iodine to prevent them and it does not cost a lot to ensure that our children have access to iodized salt. That is why we are calling on government leaders to renew their commitment to children and women in Pakistan by increasing investment in life-saving vitamins and minerals.”
The call to action for salt iodization is one of the key messages coming from a report recently released during the International Conference on “Recent Advances in Human Nutrition with Special Reference to Vulnerable Groups in Faisalabad, Pakistan in late February. The report, entitled Investing in the Future: A united call to action on vitamin and mineral deficiencies, was produced by leading organizations in micronutrient programming, including the Micronutrient Initiative, GAIN, the World Bank, UNICEF, USAID, WHO and the Flour Fortification Initiative.
Aside from iodine, other micronutrient deficiencies in Pakistan include iron-deficiency anemia which affects about 51 per cent of preschool aged children; 39 per cent of pregnant women; and 28 per cent of non-pregnant women. For children, anemia leads to a reduced learning capacity and poor school performance. For pregnant women, anemia puts them at greater risk of dying during childbirth.
Similarly vitamin A and zinc deficiencies are also considered as major nutritional and public health problems that affect millions of under five children and women of child bearing age in the country.
Already, MI programming in Pakistan has proven successful. For example, between 1993 and 2007, the number of countries in which iodine-deficiency disorders were a public health concern was reduced by more than half, from 110 to 47. Yet, 63.6 per cent school aged children remain iodine deficient.
“We´ve already made significant progress, but still, too many of our children and women continue to suffer from micronutrient deficiencies,” said Dr. Khan. “We need to take immediate action to ensure our children and communities can grow healthy, strong and prosperous.”