In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful
by Dr. Hussein A. Gezairy
WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region
WHO/ICCIDD/UNICEF Regional meeting on the role of communication in support of iodine deficiency disorders control programmes
EMRO, Alexandria, Egypt, 25-26 April 1993
It is a great pleasure for me to welcome you all here, in the WHO Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean, for this Regional Meeting on the Role of Communication in Support of Iodine Deficiency Disorders Control Programmes. This is indeed an august company. Gathered here we have representatives of the countries of the Region prone to IDD, nominated by their Governments, for which I express my thanks, many world famous IDD experts, members of the ICCIDD Board, which includes a member also from this Region, members of the Regional Working Group on IDD, established by EMRO in 1989, several colleagues from our sister-agencies UNICEF and FAO, and a number of observers from other agencies or private bodies.
I still recall how I met Dr. Basil Hetzel, the Executive Director of ICCIDD in India, at the occasion of a Tri-Regional Seminar on IDD Control Strategies organized by three WHO Regional Offices. When he mentioned that the ICCIDD Board meets every year at a different venue, I invited him to hold the 1993 Board Meeting here in EMRO, so that we could jointly organize a Regional Meeting to enable country programme managers to interact with the experts who form the Board.
I am therefore very happy now to welcome many of the Board Members who have agreed to come and participate in this Regional Meeting, which is jointly sponsored by ICCIDD, UNICEF, and WHO.
It is fitting that the theme of this two-day Regional Meeting is "Communication", because it is exactly through the relentless advocacy by all of you, in partnership with this Regional Office, that we have achieved political commitment for IDD control in the Region, as expressed by Resolution EM/RC37/R.9 adopted by the WHO Regional Committee in 1990, and again by the adoption of the International Conference on Nutrition World Declaration and Plan of Action, which has one of its important strategies the prevention and control of specific micronutrient deficiencies.
In our Region, at least 14 of 22 Member States are vulnerable to iodine deficiency, and in several of these countries the deficiency affects large segments of the population throughout the country. Iodine deficiency is not a deficiency brought about by poverty and ignorance, it is a deficiency brought about by lack of iodine in the soil, as a result of geological flooding of plains, erosion, and so forth. These processes still continue, so that our soils are probably loosing more iodine as time goes by.
Since there is , at present, no way in which we can return lost iodine to the soil, we must rely on methods to provide a constant life-long supply of iodine to all affected populations, as well as to the generations that follow us. This is the awesome commitment we have undertaken when we, your governments and the international agencies, all pledged to eliminate IDD. Unfortunately, we cannot "eradicate" IDD from the face of the Earth, like we did smallpox and hopefully, soon poliomyelitis.
No, we have pledged to "eliminate" IDD, which means we have to continuously provide our people with the iodine they do not have in their soil and thus in their food, and this provision of iodine has to be sustained. Otherwise, IDD, with its terrible consequences for the mental and physical development of our future generations, will reappear, which is a very real concern, as some European countries are now discovering.
To sustain the elimination of IDD is not something that can be dome by technicians only, however committed they may be. It needs to be a joint effort of many sectors, including those dealing with the production, marketing, and distribution of salt. These must be the political will to undertake this commitment, and last but not least, the people who are at risk of IDD must be involved. They must be aware of the need for iodine and exercise demand for the provision of iodized salt or other vehicles of iodine.
To achieve such awareness and to create an environment where political commitment, multisectoral involvement and community support go hand in hand towards elimination of IDD, communication is the key.
Advocacy, information and education are all important aspects of communication. Advocacy on the dangers of iodine deficiency and on its widespread nature, an advocacy which the WHO Regional Office has been relentlessly involved in since 1989, has helped a great deal to secure political commitment at the highest level.
As for education, intercountry, even interregional training courses and seminars on various aspects of programme management, control strategies and indicators for programme monitoring have been organized, as foreseen in the Regional IDD Strategy adopted in 1990.
To satisfy the need for up-to-date information, the many well-known members of the ICCIDD who are with us will undoubtedly be willing to share with country programme managers their wide experience in IDD control.
In this meeting, the three bodies most actively involved in IDD control, namely the ICCIDD, UNICEF and WHO, have joined hands to address the area of communication for IDD control at all levels.
The questions of what to communicate, to whom, how to do it and why communication is so important, will be addressed in the sessions on communications, which will be very practical to help the country participants to develop a suitable approach for their own country. I wish you all a very fruitful two days, in which you will not only learn a lot, but will hopefully establish a communication network for IDD control in this Region, between those of you in charge of implementing IDD control in your countries and those of you who are experts in IDD or members of IDD control supporting bodies.