Where it all began

The story of iodine began in 1811, when French chemist Bernard Courtois noticed that seaweed being burned to get potassium nitrate gave off a purple vapor identified as a new element – iodine. But it was more than a century later when iodine began to play a role in what became a major public health success that has protected the developing brains of hundreds of millions of children worldwide.

In the 19th century, before salt iodization began in Switzerland, goiter and cretinism were visible. In certain regions, almost 100% of children had large goiters and up to 30% of young men were unfit for military service for this reason. At the 1870 census 24.5 per 10,000 inhabitants were deaf mute.

Salt iodization in Switzerland began in 1922, led by Swiss physician and surgeon Hans Eggenberger, who recognized the widespread problem of iodine deficiency in the country that was causing visible goiters and cretinism, and petitioned the government to iodize salt. Eggenberger’s efforts led to the implementation of a modern, sustainable salt iodization program in Switzerland.

100 years of salt iodization

Switzerland’s success inspired the creation of the global Universal Salt Iodization campaign in the 1990s, a public-private partnership that has led to 89% of the global population having access to iodized salt, protecting the developing brains of hundreds of millions of children worldwide.

Switzerland has a seminal role in achieving human progress through Universal Salt Iodization. As health professionals and industrialists continue to review a century of progress, we look towards future efforts to guarantee the iodine status of the population.

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