Chinese authorities have admitted that iodine deficiency is prevalent in the western part of the country and say that poverty and inadequate awareness make it difficult to eliminate the resulting diseases.
The Ministry of Health (MOH) said in a circular that the detection of cretinism in western regions and Hainan indicated that were still blind spots in the prevention and treatment of endemic diseases. Cretinism is usually caused by an iodine-poor diet.
If emergency measures are not taken, China may not meet the goal set in 2004 to eliminate similar endemic diseases in 95 percent of the country's 2,000 plus counties, it said.
The problem was especially severe in Chongqing, Sichuan, Tibet, Gansu, Qinghai, Xinjiang, all located in the country's less-developed west, and in the island province of Hainan, according to MOH.
West provinces are scarcely-populated and have less medical resources. Disease prevention is difficult in these remote rural areas because of high labor costs and transportation difficulties, the circular said.
The rampant illegal sale of non-iodized salt has worsened the situation, according to the circular.
Endemic diseases like cretinism have hampered local social and economic development -- making poverty-stricken areas even poorer.
MOH has called on government administrations at various levels to strengthen financial support of locals who face escalating poverty and living costs.
The ministry has also urged media, education authorities and local health organizations to promote the use of edible salt.
China's central finance spent more than 110 million yuan (about16 million U.S. dollars) last year in seven municipalities, provinces and autonomous regions in an effort to subsidize farmers and herdsman and stimulate local edible salt production, Xinhua news agency reported.