Health experts have warned that Iodine deficiency is still a threat to the development of African economies as many newborns suffered from related disorders pointing to the need for pregnant women to embrace iodized diets.
Dr. Richard Pendame, the Nutritional International Regional Director for Africa says it is particularly important that pregnant women receive enough iodine in their diet, as iodine is a key nutrient in the fetal development process, especially with respect to the brain.
The latest global estimate is that 1.88 billion people, including 241 million school-age children have insufficient dietary iodine intake.
“The issue about iodised salt is not about only preventing goiter. It is also known that children who are born of mothers who are iodine deficient will have children that will have a brain that is not well developed. If the brain is not well developed, these children cannot learn very well. It means that they have low Intelligent Quality,” Dr. Pendame.
Dr. Pedame says in the past eight years, there have been improved trends of reducing iodine deficiency problems. Iodine deficiency during pregnancy not only results in brain damage to the fetus, but also in low birth weight, prematurity and increased perinatal and infant mortality.
“Iodine deficiency is a problem that needs thorough intervention. Every of the 54 countries in Africa have iodine control programs that they are implementing and more so reducing the prevalence of goiter,” said Dr. Pendame.
The Iodization programe partner meeting brought together officials from UNICEF, Nutrition international, Iodine network, salt processors and producers and is being held at the White sands hotel in Mombasa.
Speaking in Mombasa on Tuesday on the sidelines of a sustainable prevention and control of iodine deficiency disorders in East and Southern Africa conference, the experts say Tanzania and Ethiopia were countries that have not improved on the iodization compliance therefore risks having their population with iodine deficiency problems.
A woman’s iodine requirements increase substantially during pregnancy to ensure adequate supply to the fetus.
Most foods are relatively low in iodine content. To ensure that everyone has a sufficient intake of iodine, experts recommend universal salt iodization as a global strategy.
“We still have challenges in other countries because we have small producers in countries like Ethiopia and Tanzania, where we are still waiting to have them implement their programs,” said Dr. Karishe Festo E.A regional coordinator Iodine network.
However, in certain countries, salt iodization may not be feasible in all regions. Evidence suggests that in settings where universal salt iodization is not fully implemented, pregnant and lactating women and children under two years of age may not be receiving adequate amounts of iodized salt.
The experts recommend that depending on the percentage of households in a particular area with access to iodized salt, iodine supplementation may be necessary to ensure pregnant women receive adequate intake.
The WHO and UNICEF recommend iodine supplementation for pregnant and lactating women in countries where less than 20percent of households have access to iodized salt, until the salt iodization programme is scaled up.
“Countries with a household access to iodized salt between 20 and 90 percent should make efforts to accelerate salt iodization or assess the feasibility of increasing iodine intake in the form of a supplement or iodine fortified foods by the most susceptible groups,” said Jonathan Gorstein executive director Iodine network.
By Joseph Kamolo