Special Correspondent

1.40 crore children born in India every year face the risk of brain damage

JAIPUR: The Global Network for Sustained Elimination of Iodine Deficiency has expressed concern over low penetration of iodised salt in Indian households and announced its support for a plan of action being devised by the Indian Government’s Salt Commissioner to achieve universal salt iodisation in the country.

The Iodine Network, which held its two-day board meeting here over the weekend, observed that 1.40 crore children born in India every year are at the highest risk in the world of brain damage due to iodine deficiency.

Though salt iodisation is mandatory in India, only 51 per cent of the households consume adequately iodised salt while another 20 to 30 per cent consume salt which is inadequately iodised. The new plan of action with focus on salt iodisation, monitoring and manufacturers’ participation is likely to be announced in a month.

Iodine Network chairperson and UNICEF Director of Programmes Nicholas Alipui said the board had decided to hold this year’s meeting in India in view of the country’s dismal “public health burden” that had made a profound negative impact on the global health scenario.

“India is home to the largest population of unprotected infants,” said Dr. Alipui, adding that the comprehensive plan of action would help the country reduce infant and maternal mortality ratios and achieve the U.N. Millennium Development Goals by 2015. Protecting new generations from iodine deficiency should be of primary importance for India, he added.

Formally launched on May 8, 2002 at the U.N. Special Session for Children, the collaborative network functions through the resources of a number of global organisations such as UNICEF, World Health Organisation, World Food Programme, EU Salt, Micronutrient Initiative and the International Council for Control of Iodine Deficiency Disorders (ICCIDD).

Deputy Salt Commissioner M.A. Ansari said India, which was the world’s third largest salt and second largest iodised salt producer, had set the target of ensuring access of all citizens to iodised salt by the end of the 11th Five Year Plan.

The Iodine Network announced the appointment of two experts from India – Central Government’s Salt Commissioner S. Sundaresan and Ashvini Hiran, head of consumer products at Tata Chemicals – to its board on the occasion. Others who attended the board meeting included Micronutrient Initiative president Venkatesh Mannar and ICCIDD Regional Director C.S. Pandav.