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Sino-German Program to Eradicate Iodine-deficiency Disorders

A German church association and a Chinese foundation have jointly launched a five-million-yuan (US$625,000) program to alleviate iodine deficiency disorders in northwest China.

The program, with the funding from the EED, an association of the Protestant churches in Germany, is expected to benefit 144,000newborn babies and women of child-bearing age in eight counties and cities in the Linxia Hui Autonomous Prefecture of Gansu Province.

The main thrust of the program will be the promotion of iodized salt, said an officer with the Amity Foundation, which administers the program.

The five-year program will also spread health education among 1.93 million residents to raise their awareness of balanced nutrition, said Li Cunwen, deputy head with the provincial health bureau.

A monitoring mechanism will be established to test iodine levels and ensure scientific promotion of iodized salt in Linxia, a region with more serious problems of iodine deficiency.

Linxia government figures show the average IQ of children in key iodine-deficient areas is 15 to 25 points lower than average. Some schools report that 30 percent of students are backward.

China launched a program in 1993 to eliminate iodine deficiency throughout the country by 2000. However, seven remote regions, including the Tibet Autonomous Region and Gansu and Hainan provinces, failed to reach the goal. Authorities are striving to eliminate iodine-deficiency disorders in 95 percent of all counties by 2010.

Around 100 million people in China suffer from iodine-deficiency and its largely irreversible effects.

About 2 million newborn infants every year suffer from the problem, which can lead to brain damage. Other symptoms include delayed physical development, muscle deformities and goiters (enlarged thyroid glands).

It is generally believed that iodized salt is the most economic and effective way of distributing iodine, but high distribution costs have hindered its promotion in remote and underdeveloped areas.

Health education is also necessary to promote iodized salt, as people in some areas might not choose iodized salt even if it was available.

The Bonn-based Evangelischer Entwicklungsdienst (EED, or Protestant Development Service) has been supporting aid work of churches, Christian organizations and private agencies around the world with funding and advice.

The Amity Foundation, an unofficial organization established by Chinese Christians, has undertaken many aid programs on education, social welfare, rural development and disaster-relief across the country since it was set up in 1985.

(Xinhua News Agency April 18, 2006)

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