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China fights iodine deficiency in western regions
( 2003-10-17 22:27) (Xinhua)

"I feel really sorry for those disabled children. I wish they were just as strong as me," said 10- year-old Guo Yi from China's western province of Qinhai here Friday at the International Meeting for the Sustained Elimination of Iodine Deficiency Disorders (IDD).

In China's vast western regions, including Tibet, Xinjiang, Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan, and Chongqing, some two million children are born with iodine deficiency each year, which may cause irreversible mental disabilities and can be prevented by continuous consumption of iodized salt by the mother.

Ma Xiaowei, China's vice-minister of health, said at the meeting that the government has listed universal use of iodized salt in the western areas as the main strategy in the fight against IDD.

"One challenge in pushing the use of iodized salt in western regions is the communication with minority ethnic groups. They have different cultures and traditions from us." said Liu Tianxi, vice-director of the Health Department of the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.

Liu recalled an old woman of Hui minority who had severe goiter, a swelling of the thyroid gland, yet refused to let doctors touch her neck.

To convince Muslim villagers to use iodized salt, imams are asked to tell after sermons that iodized salt could prevent goiter. Exhibitions are held in the Arabic language school for Hui girls to understand that iodized salt may help them to have more intelligent babies.

So far, the goiter rate of Ningxia has been reduced from the once 80 percent to the current three percent.

Unlawful salt production and distribution remain another challenge for the universal use of iodized salt. Dong Zhihua, president of China's Salt Association, said the undeveloped distribution network of iodized salt leads to rampant salt smuggling.

Ma Xiaowei pledged at the meeting that the Chinese government is determined to strengthen the licensing system of iodized salt production, improve the distribution network in western areas, carry out more education programs and forge closer ties with international organizations.

Besides, China's monitoring network will continue to keep a close eye on the development of IDD and universal use of iodized salt in western regions.

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