The Ministry of Health received Dr. Ez El Din Al Sharif, Micronutrients Specialist and member of the WHO EMRO Permanent Advisory Committee in Nutrition, who is currently visiting the UAE to prepare the final preparations for eliminating iodine deficiency. The Ministry began a national study about iodine deficiency disorders in cooperation with the World Health Organization since July 2008 and declared the results at the beginning of 2010.
Dr. Mahmoud Fikri, Assistant Undersecretary for Health Policies at the Ministry of Health, stated that the results of the study and data has been used as a future basis for monitoring equal distribution of iodine consumption by all residents according to the indicators of the WHO, UNICEF, International Council for Control of Iodine Deficiency Disorders in order to announce the country as iodine free.
He also mentioned that according to the recommendations of the study, the previous period witnessed the establishment of a central database for the ministry and introduction of a sustainable control and surveillance system along with ongoing continuous training of UAE nationals. With the assistance of the World Health Organization, the Ministry will document the data and studies in coordination with related health authorities as an initial step to prepare a full detailed report to the organization and announce the UAE as a free country of iodine deficiency disorders.
“The Ministry is currently preparing for the necessary procedures to develop a permanent surveillance system for iodine deficiency and early screening for the targeted categories especially school children and pregnant women”, he said.
Dr. Mahmood Fikri, Executive Director for Health Policies at the Ministry of Health, emphasized that the Ministry took the initiative to fight iodine deficiency in collaboration with the World Health Organization “WHO”” through the Middle East Regional Office, where the first consultative conference to fight iodine deficiency was held in Dubai in 2000 in the attendance of all the member states. In July 2009, the Ministry of Health signed a cooperation agreement with the International Organization for Iodine Deficiency for 5 years. Under this agreement, the organization will manage the collection of surveys and data and monitor their evaluation status and current strategies to fight iodine deficiency in addition to the training of national human resources on new methodologies and technical support.
Iodine is one of the mineral elements needed in human nutrition, growth and evolution which is obtained through food and water. As it is essential for humans’ health, deficiency leads to developmental disorders that may destroy growth and production. Thus the cause of iodine deficiency can be avoided by encouraging the younger generations to have certain lifestyle energy potentials.
The estimated daily requirement for a person of iodine for normal growth is from 150 to 250 Microgram per day, and the lack of these hormones affect the various organs of the body especially the nervous system, circulatory system, digestive system, muscular system, urinary system, leading to poor health and mental-personnel and low production and economic development of the country.
The study that was made by the Ministry of Health aimed for evaluating iodine deficiency disorders among school students and is one of the most important studies that has been done in the Eastern Mediterranean Region.
The study came in response to the General Assembly of the World Health Organization “WHO” to abide all the member states to raise their periodic reports about the current status of fighting iodine deficiency.
Scientific studies confirm that disturbances caused by iodine deficiency are considered one of the main problems that affect humanity as it causes thyroid gland inflation, damage to fetal brain and newborn children, and delayed mental development. Iodine deficiency is the most common cause of mental retardation that affects negatively on the health of the population and national economy of any country.
The main purpose of the study was to evaluate the nutritional status of iodine and deficiency disorders among the population of the UAE taking into consideration the curriculum standards which are recommended by the World Health Organization “WHO”, UNICEF and the International Organization for Fighting Iodine.
The study included urine and salt collection samples that are used in homes for the purpose of analyzing and measuring the concentration level of iodine in urine and adequacy of iodized salt. The study also examined the levels of knowledge, attitudes and practices in national samples of school children In addition, the study contained samples of 38 groups from each country “primary schools-cycle 1” divided into seven emirates as per their geographical distribution “urban/rural” and gender “male/female”. Around 30 students have been selected as they represent their communities and families.
About 1.6 billion people live in the poor areas of 110 countries all over the world with the element of iodine and nearly 650 million people face complications due to iodine deficiency while 6 million suffer from the disease which causes mental retardation. A large number of women were affected by iodine deficiency in the reproductive period and therefore their children are highly vulnerable to the complications of iodine deficiency.
Based on the report of the World Health Organization “WHO” in 1994 about the status of thyroid gland in the UAE, the prevalence of thyroid gland among schools’ children in the country exceeded 40%. As per the study of the Ministry of Health in 1999, around 67% of the UAE children do not eat adequate amounts of food which contains iodine and the percentage of families who consume iodized salt reached only 6.5%.
With this regard, the General Assembly of the World Health Organization “WHO” issued various decisions “WHA 61-2008” that abide all the member states to prepare periodical reports about the status of iodine deficiency in their countries, iodine deficiency disorders and levels of progress. The WHO Regional Committee for Middle East Decision No. (55) 2008 stated the necessity of the member states to eliminate the iodine deficiency, raise their periodical report to the organization, monitor the status of iodine nutrition every two years and inform the World Health Organization with the progress.
Dr. Fikri said: “The results of the study recommended that the urgency of a national survey to determine the second phase of the iodine contents in food salt through examining commercial outlets in the UAE and accelerating the development and application of iodine usage in the markets according to internationals standards in coordination with our strategic partners “Dubai Health Authority, Abu Dhabi Health Authority, Food Inspection Authority, Municipalities, Chambers of Commerce and General Authority for Standardization and Metrology”.
Dr. Fikri referred that a significant progress has been made during the last period as the study showed that 94% of the families use iodized salt and the average concentration of iodine in urine was about 21% lower than the recommended international standards.
Around 41.7% only have an average concentration of iodine in urine. Despite that high proportion of families using iodized salt yet the salt does not contain the recommended international percentrage i.e 15-40 g/kgs salt.
The study found out that only 7.5 % of the used salt depends on international standards. A remarkable improvement occurred in the basic indicators of iodine deficiency since 1994 where the rate of thyroid gland inflation decreased from 40.4% to 8.2 in 2009. The increase in the rate of iodized salt utilization increased from 6% in 1994 to 94.1% in 2009 which means that there is a steadily increase of iodine urine concentration of more than 40%.