Chennai-born scientist Venkatesh Mannar, president, Micronutrient Initiative, received Canada’s highest civilian award — the Order of Canada for his commitment to improving the lives of billions of people around the world. For 40 years, Dr. Mannar has been working to reduce debilitating micronutrient deficiencies among poor. The Chennai-born Mannar graduated from the Indian Institute of Technology-Madras before doing his Post Graduate work in chemical engineering at Northwestern University, U.S.
He started his journey of saving and improving lives when he became interested in salt iodization. He became fascinated with the opportunities to end iodine deficiency disorders, leading cause of preventable brain damage, by using salt as a vehicle for iodine.
He left his family business to become a consultant for international agencies such as UNICEF, the World Food Programme and the World Health Organization. He helped establish salt iodization in more than 50 countries, making a huge contribution to what is largely considered to be one of the most successful public health campaigns of the 20th century. Today, nearly 4 billion people have access to iodized salt.
Mannar and his family chose Canada as their adopted home in 1990. In 1994, he was chosen to lead what was then a small pilot project associated with Canada’s International Development Research Centre called the Micronutrient Initiative (MI).
He spearheaded programs in vitamin A, which boosts children’s immune systems, salt iodization, and iron and folic acid. Under Mannar’s leadership, the organization has become a globally-respected not-for-profit organization, supporting programs that reach approximately 500 million people in more than 70 countries. With support from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and other generous donors, MI is now expanding its life-saving work into new areas that includes scaling up zinc for the treatment of diarrhoea, community-based maternal and newborn health, and multiple micronutrients for the health, growth and development of children.
Mannar’s engineering background and interest in food fortification led him to co-invent with Dr. Levente Diosady of the University of Toronto, Double Fortified Salt, whereby iron is added to iodized salt to reduce both iron and iodine deficiencies.
This innovation earned him the Nokia Tech Award for Health in 2010.