Over the past decade the number of countries where iodine deficiency is a public health problem has halved according to a WHO Study on a new global report on iodine status. The simple strategy to iodize common table salt has worked well. The number of countries where iodine deficiency is a public health problem was reduced to 54 in 2003, from 110 in 1993.
"Iodine deficiency is a major threat to the health and development of people worldwide, particularly preschool children and pregnant women," said Dr LEE Jong- wook, WHO Director-General. "This report shows that the goal of eliminating iodine deficiency around the world is within reach."
Deficiency of Iodine causes enlargement of the thyroid gland causing a condition called 'Goitre' in the adults. However it is the children who have more profound effects of iodine deficiency resulting in cretinism and problems with mental development, neurological impairment leading to poor school performance, reduced intellectual ability and impaired work capacity. Iodine deficiency is seen in people who live away from the sea where the soil content is low in Iodine.
WHO recommends universal salt iodization, namely the use of iodized salt for human and animal consumption, to prevent and control iodine deficiency. This strategy has been implemented in most countries where iodine deficiency is a public health problem under the leadership of UNICEF and WHO. Globally, UNICEF estimates that 66% of households now have access to iodized salt.
This report is based on the WHO Global Database on 'Iodine Deficiency', which compiles data on urinary iodine concentration and the prevalence of goitre (enlarged thyroid gland) and monitors the magnitude, severity and distribution of iodine deficiency worldwide. The number of countries where iodine deficiency is a public health problem was reduced to 54 in 2003, from 110 in 1993, showing the effectiveness of the universal salt iodization strategy, says the WHO report.
WHO also emphasizes that promoting iodized salt should not lead to the over-consumption of salt, which can contribute to hypertension. Salt iodization can be carried out with a level of salt consumption compatible with WHO's recommendations of up to 5 g/day.
WHO hopes that to meet the goal of eliminating iodine deficiency by 2005. The United Nations General Assembly at the Special Session for Children in 2002, accepted to undertake this programme by 2005. However achieving this target by next year is likely to be a very big challenge for WHO.