Only 30 percent of Yemeni families consume iodized salt

Published on 25 February 2014 in Health & Environment
Samar Qaed (author)

Samar Qaed


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The Consumer Protection Association said local markets are inundated with salt labels that say iodine is contained, but the salt does not meet certain specifications and standards.

The Consumer Protection Association said local markets are inundated with salt labels that say iodine is contained, but the salt does not meet certain specifications and standards.

Yemeni health officials met in Sana’a last month to discuss the core problems related to the salt industry in Yemen. One major problem was iodine deficiency in salt, according to health officials. A lack of iodine can cause brain damage and a host of other health problems.

In 1996, the government regulated the iodine content in salt, mandating a minimum iodine content of 40 parts per million (ppm). According to a report from the Ministry of Health and Population, from 1996 until the end of 2010, the percentage of Yemeni families who consume iodized salt did not exceed 30 percent. The percentage of families who consume salt has declined since 2010, according to the latest report published by the ministry.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says each individual should consume about 150 to 250 micrograms of iodine per day. In 1991, both the WHO and UNICEF recommended adding iodine to Yemeni salt as an effective means to ensure iodine is part of one’s diet.

Mawfaq Al-Hitari, the nutrition officer at the health ministry, said, “The situation is getting further complicated because salt is often sold in bags with fake labels. Currently, salt is produced using windmills that are are not adequately equipped for the production of properly iodized salt,” he said. “The absence of a professional licensing and regulatory authority that would organize and develop the salt industry has exacerbated the problem.”

Iodine deficiency is also associated with increases in miscarriages, higher incidences of stillbirths, and infant mortality. Children born to mothers who have iodine deficiencies can suffer from brain damage, low IQs, and thyroid gland-related problems, according to UNICEF.  

Yaseen Al-Tameemi, a researcher specializing in environmental affairs and consumer protection emphasized the importance of this micronutrient to successful human development.

The Consumer Protection Association said local markets are inundated with salt labels that say iodine is contained, but the salt does not meet certain specifications and standards. The association said that Yemeni salt also sometimes contains poisonous elements—heavy metals such as arsenic, lead and cadmium—which can cause additional health problems, including kidney failure and cancer.  

In late 2013, the Ministry of Public Health and Population and the Ministry of Trade and Industry established a committee of specialists to inspect salt mines and production facilities. Abdulelah Shaiban, the deputy minister of industry and trade, said they found many defects in the salt production process.

“The salt is not refined. It is ground with impurities. This is harmful to health,” said Shaiban.

The Ministry of Trade and Industry is preparing a salt production strategy plan. This plan will detail all of the standards that should be met in the salt production process.

Shaiban said different government bodies have been collaborating to develop procedures that will improve the quality of salt available on the Yemeni market.

“A team will make field visits to the salt facilities to coordinate and train their staff on how to grind the salt, remove impurities, and add iodine,” he said. “The second step is longer-term, and will implement the plan we are preparing.”