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Officials Push for Global Access to Iodized Salt

World health officials say that millions of people around the world are deficient in iodine, which causes fetal brain damage. And they are calling on the intenational community to increase iodized salt to one-third of households in mostly developing countries that do not have access to the micronutrient. VOA's Jessica Berman reports.

Since the 1990s, international public health officials say 70 percent of world households now consume iodized salt. But since 2002, they say there's been a significant drop in progress toward fulfilling a mandate of 100 percent coverage.

The result, according to experts, is that nearly two billion people worldwide are at risk of iodine deficienicy and 38 million newborns are unprotected.

Werner Schultink is head of nutrition at the United Nations Children's Fund, or UNICEF, in New York. He says children who lack iodine are at risk of developing brain damage.

"If your brain doesn't get enough iodine, your brain doesn't function well and school performance goes down. People become sluggish, slow on the uptake. And it has a big impact on the capacity of a nation to compete on a global market," he said.

Experts say children who do not get enough iodine in their diets can lose up to 15 points on their IQ scores, or they may be born retarded.

Schultink says iodized salt is the perfect way to ensure people, especially children, receive adequate amounts of the nutrient because salt is easy to enhance. Also, only tiny amounts of salt need to be consumed each day to make sure someone is getting an adequate amount of iodine.

And Schultink says iodized salt is extremely inexpensive.

"It costs about 10 cents (US) per person per year for let's say the whole complete process which is required to add iodizing the salt. So, it's a very cheap undertaking. But the positive impact is enormous," he said.

The United Nations for Sustained Elimination of Iodine Deficiency has set a goal of working toward eliminating iodine deficiency in nearly two dozen countries, including Angola, India, Indonesia, Niger, Pakistan and Vietnam by 2010.