August 2020

IGN and its partners believe in a world where people have access to nutritious food, including the iodine in their diet that allows children to reach their full cognitive potential. The profound health and economic impacts of COVID-19 will make that vision more difficult to attain, but even more important to achieve.

Our job as an organization is to support and catalyze global and national iodine programs. Around the world, IGN and its partners are working to protect the progress we’ve made in ensuring that salt is iodized to prevent iodine deficiency disorders, and to work out where we go from here.

There are a lot of things to think about: assuring the procurement and supply of the iodine that is used to fortify salt; thinking of ways to mitigate rising prices caused by stops or slowdowns in production; making sure that the salt that countries are importing is adequately iodized and that population iodine status is maintained, and positioning iodized salt production as an essential economic and public health activity.

Over the coming months, this blog will share examples of how countries and stakeholders are doing just that. Here are some early developments:

  • In Mexico, while the price of potassium iodate is rising, a rapid survey of salt companies showed supply of the fortificant was still adequate and product availability is good. Ordering potassium iodate in advance will help mitigate price rises and assure supply. As salt production is considered an essential economic activity, production never stopped, because Iodized salt is part of the basic food basket and salt is a basic raw material for other industries that make cleaning and disinfection products derived from chlorine.
  • In Ethiopia, officials continued to check salt for iodine at the borders, finding that over 90 per cent was adequately iodized. UNICEF is working with the government to inspect the levels of iodine in post-market salt – results will be available soon. The government is preparing to procure more fortificant, and the effect of COVID-19 on the procurement process will be carefully monitored.
  • In Tanzania, the General Manager of the Uvinza Salt Works in Kigoma said that production and iodization capacity had not been affected. The company exports most of its salt to Burundi, Rwanda and Eastern Congo.
  • In the Asia region, representatives from several international NGOs and UNICEF highlighted the importance of maintaining support for routine fortification of staple foods with essential vitamins and minerals, calling on governments to maintain their commitment to mandatory food fortification and protecting and maintaining it as an essential service.

Less availability and higher cost of animal source foods and fruits and vegetables due to COVID-19 have led to more reliance on food staples, especially among the poorest and most vulnerable. That’s why it’s more important than ever to keep fortifying foods with essential micronutrients to protect the quality of diets of those who don’t have access to more expensive foodstuffs. And for countries with scarce resources to spare in the COVID-19 environment, such interventions are highly cost-effective. The World Bank and the Copenhagen Consensus have both ranked food fortification as one of the best investments in development in terms of cost-effectiveness. Global improvements in iodine status over the past 25 years have resulted in major health and economic benefits in low- and middle-income countries.

As we rebuild our food systems and plan to advance global nutrition, let’s make sure we protect and expand on these key interventions that can improve the quality of people’s diets through access to safe, affordable nutritious fortified foods. They are more necessary than ever.