You see? asks Artur Buiuklianov delightedly as he points to the telltale stain.
“The salt is iodized.”
We are visiting a small market in Kara-Balta, a town once famed for gold and uranium production. He has purchased a bag of salt and tested it by adding a drop of reagent. The salt has turned purple, showing the presence of iodine. More importantly, it shows that the battle against iodine deficiency disorder (IDD) is being won in Central Asia.
It is an important battle, for human beings need to ingest the right balance of micronutrients for healthy living, and micronutrients like iodine play a vital role. Regular iodine intake is particularly important for the development of healthy children, and if a woman has insufficient iodine in her body during pregnancy? especially in the first trimester?this can seriously damage the fetus.
According to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director Carol Bellamy, speaking at the International Meeting for the Sustained Elimination of Iodine Deficiency Disorders in Beijing in October 2003, 46 million children were born in 2002 unprotected from iodine deficiency, the world's single greatest cause of preventable mental retardation. “There is no reason for so many children to be compromised by a disorder that can be prevented with only a few grains of iodized salt,” she said.
Even mild iodine deficiency can result in a significant loss in learning ability. According to UNICEF, IDD can lower the intelligence quotient of a population by as much as 13 points, with serious implications for human and economic development. Other effects include goiters, stillbirths, and miscarriages.
In the former Soviet Union, the connection between micronutrients and health and child development was well recognized, and almost all salt was iodized. But after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, many linkages between Russia and the newly independent countries of Central Asia were sundered and, during the latter's difficult period of transition from controlled to market economies, iodized salt generally ceased to be available.
In Central Asia, the poor eat little seafood, which is a good source of iodine, and their diets are generally iodinedeficient. With the collapse of systematic iodization of salt, half a generation of poor women and children ?especially children?have suffered.
The problem is not limited to iodine. Toregeldy Sharmanov, President of the Kazakh Academy of Nutrition (KAN) in Almaty, Kazakhstan, says half the women of reproductive age in Central Asia are affected by iron deficiency anemia. This can be overcome simply by fortifying flour with iron; but in most parts of Central Asia, fortified flour has never been available.
The World Bank has estimated the cost of micronutrient deficiency to the Central Asia subregion at about 5% of gross domestic product?an enormous price to pay for the absence of tiny amounts of inexpensive micronutrients.
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