Govt plan to stand out in SAsia in iodine access

KATHMANDU: The government has set a target of making iodised salt accessible to 99 per cent households nationwide by 2010 to achieve the Universal Salt Iodization (USI) goal. The Ministry of Health and Population (MoHP) is celebrating February as 'Iodine Month' nationwide.

Nepal is the first country in South Asia to set the target of achieving the USI target. To meet the target, the country should make iodised salt adequately accessible to more than 90 per cent of total households. The national survey and impact study for iodine deficiency disorder and availability of Iodised Salt in Nepal 2007 showed that around 77 per cent households are using iodised salt in Nepal, a jump from 57.7 per cent in 2005. At retail stores, it was found, 84.2 per cent salts have adequate level of iodine content. Moreover, 67.8 per cent salts in the retail stores had iodine content more than 30 ppm (parts per million). The survey also showed that Nepal lies in high risk area for iodine deficiency due to its ecological and bio-physical conditions.

Dr Shyam Raj Upreti, chief of Child Health Division under the MoHP, said the challenges are mostly seen at mid and east Tarai regions stating that they are conducting a special campaign of awareness on and distribution of iodised salt in these areas. "The open border is one of the major components behind the challenges," said the chief as the people living in these areas are importing and consuming cheap salt without iodine from the border area.

He said iodine deficiency was the primary cause of preventable mental retardation and brain damage, having the most negative impact on the brain of a developing foetus and young children in the first few years of life. It also increases the chance of infant mortality, miscarriage and stillbirth.

According to UNICEF, 30 per cent of households in the developing world are not consuming iodised salt that included 41 million infants and newborns. A third of the households in Nepal are still using salt with low iodine content. Urmila Shrestha, general manager, Salt Trading Corporation Limited, said the government body is conducting a campaign with the cooperation of local people to meet the target. She revealed that around 19 per cent of the population in mid and eastern Tarai uses salt without iodine.