The first national survey of iodine nutrition in over a decade is currently coming to a successful conclusion in Burundi. Led by the Ministry of Health and the National Bureau of Statistics, this study will provide up-to-date information about the availability of iodized salt in homes across the country, and the nutritional iodine status among women of reproductive age.
Poor iodine nutrition has been recognized as a public health problem in Burundi since 2005, when the first national survey declared the country to be iodine deficient. Poor iodine status during pregnancy could put babies at risk of impaired brain development and lower I.Q.
Despite political turmoil, the Government of Burundi has shown strong leadership and commitment to tackle malnutrition by joining the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement, and passing legislation to make it mandatory for importers and domestic producers to add micronutrients to selected foods, including iodine to salt.
But lacking its own salt producers, Burundi relies on producers in Tanzania to deliver the bulk of its demand for food-grade salt. Because not all imports are adequately controlled, in 2014 the Bureau of Standards and Quality Control found that as much as 80% of imported salt had too little iodine.
Following advocacy meetings, the IGN reached an agreement with UNICEF and the SUN representatives in Burundi to conduct a new survey of iodine status and coverage of iodized salt. Initially stalled because of civil unrest, the survey was able to progress in early February 2018, with the support of the IGN and UNICEF under the auspices of the Directorate for Nutrition (PRONIANUT).
Samples of household salt and drinking water collected in Burundi have been shipped to the Tanzanian Food and Nutrition Centre laboratory for analysis to check whether they provide enough iodine to prevent nutritional deficiency in women. Urine samples collected from the women will provide direct information about their nutritional iodine status.
In the beginning of April, the IGN Regional Coordinators for Eastern and Southern Africa will visit salt producers in Kigoma, Tanzania, who are reported to be the main suppliers of salt in Burundi, to ensure that correct salt iodization practices are adhered to. A report from this visit and study results will be presented to the Government of Burundi and development partners to inform improvements to the IDD elimination program, which may include stricter import quality controls.