In Russia, finally, iodine nutrition gets backing
by Gregory Gerasimov
After years of intensive public health campaigning, a proposed bill would address iodine deficiency.
In what would be a victory decades in the making, Russian lawmakers may enact a program to address the population's longstanding iodine deficiency. Under the proposed new bill, salt would be required to be fortified with iodine, and milk would be required to be fortified with vitamins A and D.
Russia’s current mild iodine deficiency
status leaves a country of more than 140 million people vulnerable to iodine deficiency, disproportionately affecting mothers and newborns with debilitating and life-limiting impacts.
IGN and partners have been working to raise public awareness and political will for decades in Russia, and progress has been hard won, in no small part due to market interests of pharmaceutical companies
who have a stake in the use of iodine tablets as supplements.
Multiple nationwide media campaigns held over the years have aimed to drum up support for USI, the most sustainable program to address iodine deficiency – most recently a campaign in 2018
that engaged the media, policymakers, and the public under the leadership of the World Health Organization, and before that, a campaign in 2016
with national press coverage and airtime on major TV news networks. Along the way, the nutrition community has achieved some smaller scale victories, like implementing an iodine deficiency prevention program in kindergartens
in the Almetyevsk region.
But to protect Russian mothers and newborns effectively, the country needs a USI program, starting with a mandate. Russia is lagging behind the rest of the Eurasian Economic Union members: Universal Salt Iodization (USI) programs are already enacted in Kazakhstan, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia, with Russia being the only exception.
This is not the first time such a bill has been proposed in the country. A similar bill submitted in 2013 argued that, "from an economic point of view, the use of iodized table salt is the most effective investment in the intellectual and physical health of the nation." It did not pass. And today this statement remains just as true and just as urgent.
Now, however, there is reason to hope the current bill will pass. Developed by the Ministry of Health, it has already received the backing of some of the highest-level decision makers including the government’s supervising deputy prime minister Tatiana Golikova as well as the head of the public health service, Anna Popova – as reported by the Russian Information Agency
"Our task is to provide [people] with such products with the necessary content of vitamins and microelements entering the shelves of our stores," said Deputy Prime Minister Alexei Gordeyev in announcing the bill, as reported by RBC
Russia has already eliminated iodine deficiency before – defeating endemic goiter in the 1950s, with a national program that at its height successfully reached 60% of the population, but waned and finally collapsed in 1991 with the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
Once iodine deficiency control becomes law, Russia will face implementation challenges due to its vast geographic diversity, spanning two continents and eleven time zones. All the more reason to make haste to pass this bill, so the work can begin.
About the author
Dr. Gregory Gerasimov
graduated from Moscow Medical University before joining UNICEF as a consultant for salt iodization programs in 2000-2012. He provided expert service to over 20 countries to help them reach optimal iodine nutrition. He has served as IGN Board and Management Council member since 1993 and is currently IGN's Regional Coordinator for Eastern Europe and Central Asia