Will a law be passed on the iodisation of salt?
A round-table discussion took place on “Prevention of Iodine Deficiency Illnesses in Russia: Solutions to a serious problem”. One of the participants, Elena Nikolaeva, chair of the Public Chamber’s Committee on Social Issues and Politics, noted that if there is no change in the iodine deficiency situation, the country’s economy will suffer. According to Nikolaeva, there is not one region in Russia where the population are not at risk of contracting an Iodine deficiency related illness. According to a 2006 UNICEF report, approximately one million children a year are born with an iodine deficiency and experts say this will lead to slowed development. The recommended daily dose of iodine is 150-200micrograms (mg). Most people in the country receive 40-80mg. Twenty percent of Russians have iodine deficiency related illnesses and the amount of iodine given to pregnant women is below the dose recommended by WHO.
In both developed and third world countries, there are public health programmes whose aim is to prevent iodine deficiency. Ten of the CIS countries have passed laws requiring iodisation of salt. Galina Melnichko, director of the Institute of Clinical Endocrinology added that since the 1990’s 96 countries have introduced prevention of iodine deficiency programmes. Only 13 countries still do not have a programme despite having an iodine deficiency problem. Amongst these are many African countries, Columbia, Ukraine and Russia. Melnichko recalled that in 1999 the Russian Government passed a bill on “Measures to prevent iodine deficiency related illnesses”. In subsequent years 43 Russian provinces have established local programmes to deal with iodine deficiency but, in Melnichko’s opinion, none of them have been effective. In January 2007, the Ministry of Health signed a bill in which one of the recommendations was to give pregnant women medicines containing iodine. Melnichko thinks that the State Duma would have passed the bill on iodisation of salt if it hadn’t been for lobbyists. The favourite argument of deputies against the bill is “Are you going to give babies iodised salt? No! They will be fed breast milk and the mother will get iodised salt!”
Grigory Gerasimov, UNICEF advisor and regional coordinator in Eastern Europe and Central Asia for the International Council on Iodine Deficiency Illnesses, talked about his experiences of the battle with iodine deficiency. “In China, 95 percent of the population eat only iodised salt. In Tibet the government is establishing a programme to encourage consumption of iodised salt.” In developed countries, the main aim of these public health programmes is to use iodised salt in the production of bread. According to Gerasimov, “In 1944, the Dutch government passed a law on using iodised salt in bakeries and this law is more than 65 years old.” In Germany, Romania and Bulgaria the majority of bakeries use only iodised salt. Ten years ago Belarus decided to use iodised salt in food production and even paid for the airing of television commercials promoting a healthy diet.
By 2010, endemic goitre illness due to iodine deficiency had decreased by four times in adults. Illnesses due to iodine deficiency also decreased in children and teenagers. The UNICEF report “Iodine deficiency in Russia: Problems and Solutions” says that several negative reactions from government departments are preventing the passing of a bill to fight iodine deficiency. The departments fear that a compulsory requirement of iodised salt in food will lead to less choice in products for the consumer. Nevertheless, the experts who participated in the round-table discussion noted that the last year has seen some positive signs that the legislation will be passed. The State Duma set up an expert panel on health and in 2010 the bill on iodisation of salt was finalised. Elena Nikolaeva promised to pass on the conclusions of the round-table discussion to the Russian government, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Science, the State Duma and local authorities in Russian provinces.