The Power of Salt: Diseases on the Brink
Fascinating story in today’s NY Times about the impressive population wide impact of iodized salt and also the difficulty in implementing this very technologically “simple” intervention: “putting iodine in salt, public health experts say, may be the simplest and most cost-effective health measure in the world. Each ton of salt needs about two ounces of potassium iodate, which costs about $1.15.” The article details what happened when the Soviet Union fell apart and the following public health consequences. For those of you in a rush, the video synopsis by the NY Times of this article is great (see article for “multimedia”).
This article is part of a series that examines diseases that hover on the brink of eradication, and the daunting obstacles that doctors and scientists face to finish the job.
Studies show that iodine deficiency is the leading preventable cause of mental retardation… Putting iodine in salt, public health experts say, may be the simplest and most cost-effective health measure in the world. But the effort has been faltering lately. When victory was not achieved by 2005, donor interest began to flag as AIDS, avian flu and other threats got more attention.
The cheap part, experts say, is spraying on the iodine. The expense is always for the inevitable public relations battle.In some nations, iodization becomes tarred as a government plot to poison an essential of life — salt experts compare it to the furious opposition by 1950s conservatives to fluoridation of American water. In others, civil libertarians demand a right to choose plain salt, with the result that the iodized kind rarely reaches the poor. Small salt makers who fear extra expenseoften lobby against it. So do makers of iodine pills who fear losing their market.
Rumors inevitably swirl: iodine has been blamed for AIDS, diabetes, seizures, impotence and peevishness. Iodized salt, according to different national rumor mills, will make pickled vegetables explode, ruin caviar or soften hard cheese…Breaking down that resistance takes both money and leadership. “For 5 cents per person per year, you can make the whole population smarter than before.”