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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Iodine deficiency plagues Cambodia

Iodine deficiency plagues Cambodia

Cambodia has one of the world's worst iodine deficiency problems among its population.

The problem can be easily and cheaply fixed by eating iodized salt. But only 12 percent

of the population does so because iodized salt is slightly more expensive and not

enough is produced.

So the Government has declared that from next October it will be illegal for anyone

to produce, import or sell non-iodized salt.

The National Council for Nutrition (NCN) is looking for an NGO to purchase an iodizing

machine for salt farmers in Koh Kong province.

Khiev Bory, director of the Ministry of Planning said: "The farmers have asked

for a machine for mixing iodine into the salt, and the NCN is looking for a donor

to support the purchase."

There are machines operating at two big salt farms in Kampot. Salt production is

primarily based in Kampot and Kep, where about 176 salt farms are spread over 4,000

hectares of land. They produced 14,500 tons of iodized salt in 2003, or about 22

percent of national needs.

Experience in other countries has shown that success in fighting iodine deficiency

disorders (IDD) depends mainly on using legislation to enforce universal salt iodization.

Preliminary results of the national goiter survey by the Ministry of Health in 1997

revealed that the total average goiter rate was about 12 percent among the age group

8 to 12 years. But in some provinces the rate was up to 45 percent.

About 17 percent of the general population is affected by iodine deficiency, shown

through enlarged thyroid gland or goiter (a neck growth), poor physical strength,

lack of intelligence in study, and vulnerability to diseases. A demographic and health

survey in 2000 showed that only about 14 percent of all Cambodian families used iodized

salt. The comparative percentage in neighboring countries was: Laos 90, Thailand

70 to 90, and Vietnam 40 to 70.

The NCN helped formulate two prakas on iodized salt production and consumption which

were adopted by the government on October 20, 2003.

Tomoo Hozumi, senior program coordinator for UNICEF, said the problem of IDD had

been known in Cambodia for a long time; in the mid-1990s it was thought to be limited

to the north-eastern parts of the country. But a survey in 1997 showed that the problem

was much more widespread.

IDD causes a wide range of serious health problems, like still births, spontaneous

abortion, poor physical and mental development, diminished learning capacity and

in severe cases cretinism.

Mark Anthony White, a USAID official involved in health issues, said IDD was a very

serious health issue and significantly affected the quality of a nation's human resources.

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