Health News Sat, 27 Oct 2007

Continued iodine deficiency, bane of educational growth- Nutritionist

Elmina, Oct. 27, GNA- The Head of the Nutrition Unit of the Ghana Health Service (GHS) Mr Jacob Armah, has expressed concern that the continued occurrence of Iodine Deficiency Disorders (IDDs) among children may hamper the objectives of the educational reform programme and the nation's developmental efforts. He said statistics, indicated that about 81,200 babies are born annually with mental impairments as a result of such deficiencies, and suffer from stunted growth and low Intelligence Quotients (IQs), thereby impeding their learning abilities when they grow up. Mr Armah, expressed these concerns, at a stakeholders' seminar to "devise strategies for achieving universal salt iodation in Ghana" at Elmina.

The seminar, which is being attended by some members of parliament and district chief executives, is under the theme: "Together in the fight against iodine deficiency disorders (IDDs) in Ghana and West Africa" and is being organized by the Ministry of Trade, Industry, PSD and PSI, in collaboration with UNICEF. Mr Armah, who was speaking on "Iodine deficiency disorders in Ghana: health and economic implications", noted that studies conducted between 1991 and 1994, indicateD that 33% of the then 110 districts in the country, were very critical IDDs endemic areas, and that as a result, three percent of babies born there will become cretins, 10%, will have severe mental impairment and 87 percent, mild mental impairment.

He mentioned, Nkwanta, Kwahu-south, Tatale, Mamprusi, Hohoe, Bongo, Jirapa, Adansi-west and Bole, as some of the critical endemic areas, and expressed surprise that the Tema municipality and Mfantsiman districts which are near the sea, whose foods are rich in iodine, were also gradually becoming affected. He expressed regret that this situation led, not only to poor academic performance, but under-utilization of educational opportunities and school drop-out, while many of such children also became handicapped and were unable to cope on their own.

Touching on the economic implications of IDDs, Mr Armah said this leads to loss of productivity, as people in IDDs endemic communities were incapacitated in taking initiatives and decision-making, thereby blocking human and social development. He observed that it was estimated that 22 million dollars would be lost annually in productivity, in terms of future wages, thereby hindering the nation's bid to attain middle-income status. Mr Armah therefore charged the participants to ensure that salt produced or sold in their districts and constituencies were iodated and also to mobilize their people to intensify awareness on the benefits of using iodized salt.

In her address, Dr (Mrs) Gladys Ashitey, Deputy Minister of Health, also expressed concern about the low consumption of iodized salt in the country in spite of a law making the production and consumption of iodized salt mandatory.

She further expressed concern th at although a target was set to ensure that by the end of 2005, 90% of households consumed iodized salt, the consumption rate by the end of 2006, was 74 %, and that the last survey indicated that consumption of the salt had reduced to 50%. She expresses regret that the consequences of Iodine Deficiency Disorders are utterly devastating. Each year, millions of young children suffer such a low IQ that they could simply not undertake any education.

The Minister, therefore tasked the Food and Drugs Board (FDB) and other law enforcement agencies to "double up their efforts" in enforcing the law. She also suggested that community- based initiatives, supported by multi-sectoral approach, to tackle the fundamental determinants of ridding the nation of IDDs, and called for a greater involvement of women, since they are the key players in the supply of and end-users of salt, Dr Ashitey, in this regard reiterated the government's commitment towards the growth of the salt industry, hence its inclusion in the PSIs.

The Deputy Representative, UNICEF, Ghana, Madam Liv Elden, also enumerated the health and economic benefits of iodized salt, and said universal salt iodation was important for children, for whom the lack of iodine, affected their IQs by as much as 15 points. She also expressed concern that although Ghana exports 70 % of its salt to neighbouring countries, some countries are currently reluctant to import Ghana's salt because it is inadequately iodized. She said for example, Nigeria is importing salt "all the way" from Brazil and India, and observed that if Ghana could improve iodization as well as its production capacity, she could benefit immensely from the industry.

"This also means that Ghana is in the position to help eliminate iodine deficiency disorders not only among Ghanaians but also among millions of people who consume Ghana's salt", she stressed, and pledged UNICEF's continued support to help Ghana's efforts. In a speech read for him, the sector Minister, Mr Joe Baidoe-Ansah, noted that projects of his Ministry were geared towards the achievement of universal salt iodization, since there was the need to produce salt for both the domestic and international markets. He also expressed concern that the last survey indicated that iodized salt comsuption was just 50%, and stressed that this trend must be reversed and urged the participants to ensure that they make the desired strategic inputs to address the situation. In his welcoming address, Mr Sintim Barima, regional director of the sector ministry, noted that the Central Region, which has the highest number of salt producers, had over the years, been grappling with problems including iodization of salt.

He said although the producers have been trained in this technology and have also benefited from support from UNICEF and the WFP, iodized salt consumption in the region is not the best, and hoped the seminar would come up with effective suggestions on actions to address the situation. 27 Oct. 07

Source: GNA