Out of the two billion people who suffer from vitamin deficiencies worldwide, according to the World Health Organisation – the result is 19 million deaths per year – with a million of those being children.
Here in Cambodia, an estimated 3 million people out of a population of 14 million, around 20 percent, suffer from Vitamin A deficiency – resulting in blindness, illness, reduced immune function and stunting.
That’s why Professor Eng Huot, secretary of state for the Ministry of Health, took part in working sessions sponsored by Germany-based global chemical giant BASF and its local partner Dynamic Pharma about how to get food companies, in cooperation with standards set by the government, to enhance their food products with fortification.
With industry and NGO experts last week at Phnom Penh’s Sofitel Hotel – including people from palm oil, instant noodle and nutritional food companies – ways were discussed of how to fortify foods in Cambodia so that people would be healthier.
According to five Nobel Prize-winning scientists from the “Copenhagen Consensus”, the fortification of food is the most cost-effective way for governments to help undernourished people.
Other topics discussed were how to include iodine in salt and how mothers and children in Cambodia could get essential nutrients – especially iron and zinc – both during pregnancy and by sprinkling on a fortified powder onto commonly eaten rice porridge that mothers in Cambodia popularly feed to their babies.
Tom Kimson, CEO of Dynamic Pharma, said he was encouraged by the results of the workshop and expected a lot of nutritional benefits for Cambodia’s population based on the government’s support of private food companies choosing to fortify their products with extra vitamins.
The International Development Council runs a programme called Better Foods for Better Lives in Cambodia, which has produced fortified wheat flour for the first time here.
IRD’s scheme is generating jobs for 313 workers during production and packaging of flour, bread, noodles and soy milk, while indirectly supporting over 2,500 additional jobs involving the distribution, and marketing of IRD’s products.
Local wheat milling capacity has increased by 31 percent, and a noodle factory now operates three shifts 26 to 28 days per month.