Islamabad - “Let us legislate before it is too late” was the slogan of a walk with participants and speakers demanding the government to make iodized salt a must item in order to curb iodine deficiency disorders (IDDs).

A number of people on Sunday participated in the walk organized by The Network for Consumer Protection in collaboration with UNICEF to mark International Consumer Rights Day, held every year on March 15, in front of National Press Club to raise awareness about iodine deficiency. The participants were holding posters, banners, placards and Pakistani flags in their hands inscribed with different slogans to draw attention of the stakeholders towards the importance of iodized salt in daily routines of all. They urged the government to move an early legislation around this important consumer issue.

The theme of this year’s WCRD was ‘healthy eating’. Pakistan was a signatory to the plan of action of World Summit on Children 1990 that agreed to overcome iodine deficiency from the world by 2010. However, due to lack of attention to the issue, today, nearly 50 million people in Pakistan are suffering from iodine deficiency while over 50 per cent of the total population in the country are at risk of iodine deficiency disorders.

The participants were of the opinion that the government should pay attention to this cause. A simple decision from the government can protect girls, women and children from so many health complications.

Dr Farah Mufty, a prominent medical practitioner, quoted the National Nutrition Survey 2011, saying that reported use of iodized salt for cooking purposes was 39.8 per cent across Pakistan whereas only 64.2 per cent mothers showed awareness about iodised salt. Statistics indicate that IDD also stands in our way of achieving MDGs especially 1, 2, 4 and 5 to which Pakistan is a signatory. She added, “A large number of children annually are born mentally deficient due to IDD among pregnant women.”

She said that iodine in salt deficiency can lead to a plethora of diseases, especially thyroid related, and can also lead to decreased IQ in newborns. The people at all levels and strata need to understand this and promote the importance of iodized salt in a society such as ours.

Speaking to the gathering Tauseeq Haider said that one only needs a teaspoonful for life, or 150 micrograms of iodine daily which costs less a than 100 rupees. Yet over half of Pakistan’s population is thought to be at risk of developing IDDs, particularly pregnant mothers and children.

Areeb Azhar stated, “It’s important that we spread awareness about the food that we eat because the basic right of each human is the right to pure and healthy food. In this regards it’s important that the state of Pakistan legislates the iodization of consumer salt to counter all IDDs that are prevalent in our country.”

Nadeem Iqbal, Executive Coordinator Network for Consumer Protection, emphasising on the need for law said the journalists could play an active role in taking this message to the wider audiences.

To explain how an effective enforcement of legislation can make the difference, he quoted an example where “Pakistan and Afghanistan were drawing salt from the same source but surprisingly enough the salt imported to Afghanistan was iodised unlike Pakistan, for in Afghanistan there was a strong legislation on iodisation.” He added that the proposed law at the federal level making iodisation of edible salt mandatory would help ensure that every household is using iodised salt.

Legislation for universal salt iodisation is a unique issue and should not fall victim to the post-devolution controversy, as has been the fate of the health sector. It should rather, deservedly, be treated as a multi-sectoral issue involving both federal and provincial governments.