Experts Gather to Discuss Remaining Pockets of Iodine Deficiency in China

2007-07-30 09:27 1027

BEIJING, July 30 /Xinhua-PRNewswire/ -- Vice-Minister of Health Wang Longde today opened a meeting of national and international experts, including Board members of the Network for Sustained Elimination of Iodine Deficiency who have gathered in Beijing to discuss global progress on iodine deficiency. The meeting brought together officials from the China Ministry of Health and the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), universities and the private sector at a key point in the fight to eliminate iodine deficiency disorders in China.

Iodine deficiency is an important health issue wherever natural sources of dietary iodine are lacking and affects 740 million people in 130 countries. Iodine is critical for normal growth and development, and deficiency during pregnancy and early childhood can result in reduced intelligence or a form of mental retardation known as cretinism. In areas where it is common, including many parts of China, iodine deficiency commonly causes swelling of the thyroid gland at the front of the neck, or goiter.

An effective solution to iodine deficiency is universal iodisation of salt for domestic consumption. China is a global leader in the introduction of universal salt iodisation, raising household coverage of iodised salt from around 40% in 1995 to the target of 90% in 2005. The Network Board acknowledged this achievement at today's meeting, presenting plaques to the Ministry of Health and the NDRC and thanking them, and the China National Salt Industry Corporation, for their roles in promoting salt iodisation within China and abroad.

But difficulties in certain western and coastal provinces mean that up to 130 million Chinese are still at risk of iodine deficiency, and new cretins were identified in 2006 in areas where iodised salt consumption remains low. UNICEF Representative in China, Dr Yin Yin Nwe said today: "We met to discuss solutions to the problems certain provinces have in reducing the risk of iodine deficiency. Although China's achievements in raising levels of consumption of iodised salt are outstanding, many people here are still consuming uniodised salt."

Some communities cannot afford the slightly higher cost of refined, packaged iodised salt, or prefer traditional salt produced locally. Experts today discussed alternatives to give these communities access to adequate sources of iodine, such as subsidies to reduce the cost of packaged iodised salt, strategies to iodise locally produced traditional salt or the interim use of iodised oil capsules.

The Chairperson of the Network Board and UNICEF Director of Programmes, Mr Alan Court, expressed confidence at the outcome of today's meeting: "The attendance of Vice-Minister Wang and the quality of the discussion both indicate the high priority given to this issue by the Chinese government. Whilst ultimately we all agree that universal consumption of iodised salt is the best way to avoid iodine deficiency, we know from many countries that in some areas it takes time to achieve this. The meeting today gives me great hope that those people remaining at risk for iodine deficiency in China will benefit quickly from the options and ideas discussed, and from the government's commitment to eliminating this problem."

Source: UNICEF