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The Scope of the Problem

Iodine deficiency is the leading preventable cause of brain damage and it can significantly lower the IQ of whole populations.

The most severe impacts of iodine deficiency occur during fetal development and in the first few years of life. Globally, 38 million infants are born without the protection that iodine offers the growing brain, and a full 18 million are mentally impaired as a result.

It is estimated that as many as 50 countries could prevent the loss of intellectual capacity by as much as 10 to 15 percentage points if young children, newborns, and pregnant mothers received enough iodine. Clearly, it is critical to reach women of childbearing age and young children. Given how difficult it is to target these two groups, the global strategy of choice for preventing iodine deficiency disorders (IDD) is universal salt iodization (USI).  Because salt is commonly consumed, even in impoverished areas, it is an ideal vehicle to carry iodine. Adding iodine to salt provides protection from brain damage due to iodine deficiency for whole populations, helping people and countries reach their full potential.

Significant progress has been made through the USI Movement. However, at least 30% of households around the world still consume inadequately iodized or non-iodized salt. We have much left to do because iodine deficiency remains the single greatest cause of preventable developmental delays in the world today.

Issues inhibiting sustained USI include:

  • Production level constraints

  • Supply problems

  • Weak enforcement of regulations and policy

  • Inadequate demand on the part of consumers

Eliminating iodine deficiency demands a renewed drive to iodize the salt consumed by the poorest third of the population in each nation, the third that is harder to reach and will require even more effort.

What MI Is Doing About It

MI works to improve the intake of iodine and other essential vitamins and minerals during fetal development and early childhood to improve children's cognitive development and educational outcomes. In particular, MI supports universal salt iodization (USI) programs because they provide:

  • The ideal vehicle to deliver iodine

  • The best cost-benefit ratio of all malnutrition interventions

  • High return on investment; up to $28 on every dollar invested

For these reasons, MI works closely with partners such as UNICEF and the International Council for the Control of Iodine Deficiency (ICCIDD) to advance the USI movement. MI continues to host the secretariat of the Iodine Network, which aims to promote and sustain USI efforts.

MI has a special focus on the most vulnerable groups-those from lower socio-economic groups, the marginalized, populations affected by emergencies, and countries at most risk of iodine deficiency disorders (IDD). Examples of this focus on reaching the most vulnerable and ensuring their access to iodized salt have included:

In keeping with this focus, MI has launched a major partnership with the World Food Programme (WFP) to build on the progress and foundation established by the USI movement. This partnership will advance the next and hardest phase-reaching the hardest to reach and achieving coverage for the last 30% of the global population.

To support this effort, WFP and MI are joining forces to build on the excellent work done by UNICEF, the International Council for the Control of Iodine Deficiency Disorders (ICCIDDD), and members of the Iodine Network.

MI launched a new partnership with WFP that focuses on local salt producers' ability to iodize salt in six countries where iodine deficiency rates are high: India, Pakistan, Sudan, Ghana, Senegal, and Haiti. These six countries are home to 19 million of the 37 million newborn babies at risk of iodine deficiency in the developing world, and over 40 percent of the world's population not protected against iodine deficiency. This effort is a significant step toward the overall global goal of extending salt iodization to the 30% of the developing world still lacking it.

For more information on our efforts to reach the most vulnerable, close the gap, and achieve USI globally, read the editorial by MI President M.G. Venkatesh Mannar in SCN News.

MI's activities to prevent iodine deficiency have included programs to enable increased production of effectively iodized salt in seven countries in Africa, six states in India, six other countries in Asia, and one country in the Americas. These programs have enabled the production of enough additional iodized salt to reach 267 million people.

For more information, see the "Achieving Universal Salt Iodization: Lessons learned and Emerging Issues" Paper and Presentation.