Almost half of Pakistan’s 200 million people suffer from health disorders owing to iodine deficiency, according to the 2012 National Nutritional Survey conducted by UNICEF, the national health ministry, and academics.
A myth about iodine causing infertility has gripped the nation for almost two decades and Pakistan is witness to increasing incidences of goiter, mental retardation, birth-defects, still-births, and spontaneous abortions.
What is the history of this myth?
In 1995, government officials, in their attempt to educate the population about the benefits of maternal health and prenatal care, aired a slideshow on official Pakistani television that identified iodine as an important nutrient. Soon, rumors began that iodine was a state-sponsored ingredient to promote infertility in order to control family size in a culture that values large families and devalues use of contraceptives. Some have gone far enough to suggest that adding iodine is an international conspiracy to contain Muslim population.
By 2001, UNICEF reported, only 17% of Pakistan’s population used iodized salt. Today, 30% of the population refuses to use iodized salt, says Aziz, a Lahore-based official of the nonprofit Micronutrient Initiative, a Canadian-funded program that encourages the use of iodine, vitamin A, iron, and zinc.
In addition to the infertility-rumor, Pakistan’s soil is naturally deficient in iodine owing to floods and severe erosion. Secondly, laws regarding iodization of salt are not uniformly implemented everywhere. Resistance to iodized salt is most prevalent among the low-literacy people in rural areas. But the fear of iodized salt is widespread; in a village 100 km outside Lahore, doctors advise against intake of iodized salt.
In a desperate measure to prevent spread of health issues like goiter and congenital defects, some NGOs have started what can be termed stealth iodization by providing subsidies to salt factories that agree to add the micronutrient during production. This salt is sold in open bags and customers would not know that it contains iodine. So, they will get the health benefit without knowing it.
– Mantra Roy
Source: The Guardian