Navigating new waters for iodine nutrition in Djibouti

Navigating new waters for iodine nutrition in Djibouti

A new water source will disrupt Djibouti’s source of iodine. IGN is working with partners to steer a course of action toward healthy iodine nutrition through iodized salt.

In Djibouti, drastic national infrastructure changes are underway that will disrupt the country’s current source of iodine: drinking water. A pipeline is currently in development to channel water from Ethiopia to Djibouti in an effort to improve water quality, and as part of an overall push to modernize in Djibouti, a small country in the horn of Africa.

Well-water samples being collected for analysis of iodine concentration in a small survey which was conducted as a follow-up to the recent national survey.

“Groundwater in Djibouti City is very salty with sodium ions,” says Dr. Kalil Sagno, Nutrition Program Manager for UNICEF Djibouti, “and may be responsible for the high levels of some non-communicable diseases such as hypertension, heart disease or kidney problems.”

While the new water pipeline is an important step toward sodium reduction, it means that a new long-term source of iodine is required to meet the population’s physiological iodine needs. In anticipation of these changes, IGN is working with partners in the field to establish iodine nutrition through Universal Salt Iodization (USI).

USI programs are in place in over 150 countries throughout the world and have led to a steep decline in iodine deficiency across the globe. Due to these effective, affordable, sustainable programs, 75% of the world’s population is now protected from iodine deficiency.

Iodine is an essential mineral for human development, and iodine deficiency can lead to lifelong growth and cognitive impairments.

In Djibouti, new data from levels of iodine in urine, salt, and water together reveal that drinking water is Djibouti’s sole source of iodine. Water drawn from wells, public fountains and piped systems across the country has on average enough iodine content to meet half of the daily requirement with four glasses of water a day. Meanwhile, iodine is absent from salt. Currently, Djibouti’s population is not just meeting but exceeding the healthy level of iodine intake. (Median urinary iodine concentration in Djibouti is 325 micrograms/liter, just above the healthy range as defined by the World Health Organization.) Investigators reached these conclusions from surveys carried out over the past two years, by IGN and partners including UNICEF, the Ministry of Health, and ETH Zurich. Read more about survey results in IGN’s IDD Newsletter.

According to Dr. Izzeldin Hussein, IGN Regional Coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), it is important that iodine nutrition and USI programs be developed alongside efforts to reduce sodium consumption. “One of my agendas here, and in all countries, is to reduce sodium intake, while also using salt as effective vehicle for the supply of iodine,” says Dr. Hussein. “It will be a difficult task.”

In Djibouti, perhaps the greatest challenge to establishing a salt iodization program comes from more visible and urgent health problems like acute malnutrition and infections disease, that take priority, according to Dr. Sagno from UNICEF and his colleague Salama Ismael Hersi, Nutrition Program Manager at the Ministry of Health.

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Iodine Global Network

The Iodine Global Network (IGN) is a recommended charity of The Life You Can Save. IGN is a world leader in the effort to make salt iodization a universal reality, thereby eradicating the many crippling health effects of iodine deficiency.

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The views expressed in blog posts are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Peter Singer or The Life You Can Save.