Doctors warned of a comeback of iodine deficiency in Vietnam as the country cannot afford to produce more of the element while its supply in local plants and crops is dwindling due to floods that have washed it out of the ground.
Nguyen Thi Thanh Hoa from the National Hospital of Endocrinology in Hanoi said latest surveys by the General Statistics Office showed that iodine coverage on the population has dropped to 46 percent from more than 90 percent in 2005, when a national program to boost iodine supply in daily meals was in full effect, Tuoi Tre newspaper reported.
The coverage in 2011 was lower than 70 percent.
Iodine, which cannot be produced by the body itself, plays a key role in the proper functioning of the thyroid gland, and the lack of it causes stunted growth, goiters, and mental retardation.
Hoa said a simple way that many countries maintain proper iodine coverage among the population is to add it in daily seasonings like salt and fish sauce.
But when the national iodine program ended in 2005, it really ended.
Funds for iodine deficiency prevention have dropped from VND70 billion (US$3.33 million) in 2000, to VND20-30 billion a year until 2005, to VND6-7 billion a year since 2006, according to Lao Dong newspaper.
There has not been enough funds to import iodine compounds like potassium iodide (IK) and potassium iodate (KIO3), and the iodisation of salt also requires expensive technology, Hoa said.
She said as there's no money to run campaigns, people's awareness about the importance of iodine will likely die out.
Ta Van Binh, director of the Institute of Diabetes and Metabolic Disorders at the Health Ministry, said regular floods in the country have taken iodine from the ground surface, meaning that plants and crops that grow in flood areas are now also in short supply of iodine.
An average person should receive up to 150 micrograms of iodine a day, and 200-290 micrograms a day for pregnant women or mothers in the breastfeeding period.
Binh said Vietnam may end up back where it was many years ago.
Surveys in 1993 found that 22.4 percent of children in Vietnam had goiters.
World Health Organization figures in 2003 showed that iodine intake in 36.5 percent (285 million) of school-age children worldwide was insufficient.
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