14 November 2012

Gambia: Iodine Deficiency, a Major Public Health Problem

The Programme Manager and Acting Deputy Executive Director at the National Nutrition Agency, Malang N. Fofana described Iodine Deficiency Disorder (IDD) as one of the major public health problems in the Gambia. He said iodine is a nutrient needed by the body in small quantity. This, he said, is critical for the development of the body. He noted that the Gambia is far behind in achieving the 80 percent target set aside for countries.

In the Gambia, he said, only 22 per cent of the households consume iodized salt.

Mr. Fofana was speaking on Monday, 12th November 2012, at the NaNA Conference Hall at a press briefing on Iodised Salt in the Gambia with journalists from both the print and the electronic media. It also gave NaNA officials the opportunity to brief journalists on their bilateral visit of the IDD taskforce to Dakar, Senegal, earlier this month.

He explained that they are trying to put in place strategies to make sure that people consume food which contain iodine which is required by the body daily. Mr. Fofana stated further that not everybody has access to sea food which contains iodine, but added that the best way being used worldwide is to make sure that iodized salt is accessible to almost everybody.

Another thing that he said they will work on is to ensure that all salts coming into the country and meant for human and animal consumption are iodized, noting that 90 per cent of the salt consumed in the country are imported. The legislation on iodized salt, according to Mr. Fofana, will be implemented to the fullest. He added that they will also be engaged in Information, Education and Communication (IEC). He said they will be sensitizing the public on the importance of consuming iodized salt, describing the media's role as critical in this aspect. He however expressed hope that with the help of the media they will be able to reach the 80 per cent target by which everybody will be informed of the importance of iodized salt.

Also speaking to journalists was the IEC Officer at NaNA, Abdou Aziz Ceesay, who presented a presentation they did at the Bilateral Meeting in Dakar, Senegal on Iodine Deficiency Disorder in the Gambia. On IDD problem in the Gambia, Mr. Ceesay said the main deficiency diseases are related to a lack of iodine, iron and Vitamin A. He said the Gambia falls within the regions where IDDS are serious and cause social problems. He added that it is estimated that 16 per cent of the Gambia's population are with goiter. The presence of visible goiter, he noted, has traumatic effect on the affected children causing absenteeism, inferiority complex and sometimes severe discomfort. He explained that more than 1.5 billion of world population has a risk of lacking iodine and WHO estimates that more than 655 million people have IDDs, 43 million have brain disorder and mental retardation caused by iodine deficiency. He stated that the 2010 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey reports that 22 per cent of the households nationally consume iodized salt. He added that the current situation on micronutrient deficiencies could be a reason for the Gambia not attaining the MDGs 1, 4 and 5.

According to Mr. Ceesay, micronutrient deficiency diseases limit individual potential and pose a major impediment to increase in productivity and national development. He said pregnant women living in iodine deficient regions are more likely to give birth to children suffering from mental impairment, ranging from mild mental retardation to cretinism characterized by severe brain damage and dwarfism.

On the experience and achievements, he said the Gambia Government with support from UNICEF and the International Council for Control of IDD has undertaken some significant investments to address these concerns. Mr. Ceesay noted that the Government has developed a Food Fortification and Salt Iodisation Regulation in 2006. He added that UNICEF raised US$85,000 in 2012 to develop the capacity of the national IDD programme.

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