ISLAMABAD: The federal and the provincial governments must enact laws which make the production and distribution of iodised salt mandatory in the country.
This was urged by speakers at a national seminar which was jointly organised by the National Food Fortification Alliance (NFA), Scaling Up Nutrition Civil Society Alliance Pakistan (SUNCSA-Pak) and the Ministry of Health with support from the European Union WINS Programme.
Nutrition Planning Commission Chief Aslam Shaheen noted that Sindh was the only region in the country which had enacted laws for universal iodised salt coverage through the Universal Salt Iodization Act 2013.
Legislations for Universal Salt Iodization (USI) have been pending at various levels of the legislature in all other provinces and territories. Health experts argue that the legislation is mandatory to stop the supply of uniodised salt.
Shaheen said that hopefully other provinces will also follow suit and enact similar laws in their respective provinces.
“USI is prioritised by all provincial nutrition strategies since this issue can be addressed with multi-sectoral efforts,” Shaheen said.
“I would encourage all stakeholders including parliamentarians, media, religious scholars, the private sector, donors, UN, academicians and civil society to work together to ensure 100 per cent USI coverage in Pakistan,” he added.
Nutrition International Country Director Dr Naseer Nizamani said that per the National Nutrition Survey 2011, only 62.4 per cent of mothers in the country know about the value of iodized salt while utilisation of iodised salt in Pakistani households was around 69 per cent.
He added that interventions to control iodine deficiency disorders (IDD) by mixing it in salt are easy and cost-effective when compared to supplements in the form of injections, capsules and dietary diversification, which are slow and require an attitude and behavioural change. National Food Fortification Alliance Coordinator Dr Khawaja Masood Ahmed said that iodine deficiency was the single major cause of mental retardation in the world. “It affects brain development during the early stages of pregnancy and in early childhood. Severe IDD include cretinism, stillbirth and miscarriage and increase infant mortality,” he said.
Nutrition International National Programme Manager Dr Ahsanullah Khan said that even mild deficiency can cause significant loss of learning ability — about 13.5 intelligence quotient points (IQ points) — as well as other symptoms such as goitre (an abnormal enlargement of the thyroid gland). Bernard Francois, the head of cooperation with the EU Delegation to Pakistan said that the European Commission (EC) is committed to supporting partner countries tackle malnutrition through evidence-based interventions.
He added that the EC has decided to boot its effort to further develop scale-up of food fortification as one of the elements under its nutrition portfolio which contributes to reducing micronutrient deficiencies. Pakistan People’s Party leader and former National Assembly deputy speaker Faisal Kareem Kundi committed to prioritising nutrition in his party’s political manifesto. He also assured his full support for the enforcement of the USI law.
Senator Sehar Kamran backed the USI law as well apart from enforcement of mandatory food fortification laws.
Article first appeared in the Tribune.