(BPT) - Haiti has among the highest rates of elephantiasis (lymphatic filariasis), which attacks the lymphatic system, leading to abnormal enlargement of body parts, disfigurement, pain, disability and social ostracism. The World Health Organization estimates that 856.4 million people in 53 countries remain threatened by elephantiasis. The Haitian population also suffers from widespread iodine deficiency. The Haitian Ministry of Health has established a goal to completely eradicate elephantiasis and iodine deficiency disorders in Haiti by 2020. Fortunately, there is a simple cure for these conditions: salt fortified with iodine and diethylcarbamazine citrate (DEC).
Iodine is an essential element for healthy human life, enabling the function of thyroid glands to produce needed hormones for proper metabolism. When children in the womb don’t get enough iodine from their mother, fetal brain development is impaired. During pregnancy, iodine deficiency can cause a child to develop learning and intellectual disabilities as well as developmental problems affecting speech, hearing and growth.
“Iodine deficiency disorder (IDD) is the single greatest cause of preventable mental retardation,” says Kul Gautam, the former deputy executive director of UNICEF. “Severe deficiencies cause cretinism, stillbirth and miscarriage. But even mild deficiency can significantly affect the learning ability of populations. Scientific evidence shows alarming effects of IDD. Even a moderate deficiency, especially in pregnant women and infants, lowers their intelligence by 10-15 IQ points.”
Kiwanis International, a worldwide service organization in more than 82 nations and geographic areas, partnered with UNICEF in a global effort to eliminate iodine deficiency disorders (IDD). In just 10 years, starting in 1990, the percentage of the world population consuming iodized salt went from 20 percent to 70 percent. Kiwanis ultimately provided nearly $105 million to protect children from preventable mental and physical disabilities.
“There is no reward greater in life than helping children, and seeing them live healthy, vibrant lives. Our clubs and members understand the importance of helping children in their communities, and in communities around the world, and have proudly contributed to protecting more than 80 million children from the devastating effects of iodine deficiency,” said Stan D. Soderstrom, executive director of Kiwanis International, during a Kiwanis sponsored presentation at the 2018 World Salt Symposium in Park City, Utah.
Iodine deficiency was a problem in the United States as well, until American salt producers started adding iodine to table salt more than a century ago. Today, about 70 percent of the table salt sold in the United States is iodized. In fact, salt has been and remains the primary source for iodine in the American diet. The effect of this public health initiative has been to virtually eliminate the incidence of thyroid related illness, including goiters. “Iodized salt has been one of the greatest and most economical public health successes and it continues to help raise healthy, smart children,” said Lori Roman, President of the Salt Institute, which hosted the 2018 World Salt Symposium.
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