Gregory Gerasimov began his career as an endocrinologist in Moscow, where he was awarded an MD, PhD and Doctor of Medical science at Moscow Medical University.
The story of Gregory’s lifelong involvement with iodine deficiency began in when he attended a thyroid conference in Germany in 1990, where many attendees asked him about the emerging problem of endemic goiter in the USSR. At that time, he believed it had been eradicated – a national program in Russia in the 1950s had reached 90% of the population. But the program was weakening and finally collapsed in 1991 with the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
He returned to Russia with a renewed interest in the issue of iodine deficiency, the world’s greatest preventable cause of brain damage in children. With reduced availability of iodized salt, not only in Russia but in countries who had been importing iodized salt from Russia and Ukraine, he saw a huge increase in prevalence of IDD during the ensuing years.
Today, he sees parallels – although not direct ones – with this time. While the salt iodization program in the former Soviet Union collapsed due to a huge recession and loss of GDP, the dissolution also caused privatization and the loss of many of the ministries that oversaw the salt industry. While COVID-19 may disrupt production or drive the up the cost of fortification, he notes that so far, the region has seen no problem with production.
Gregory notes, however, that public health challenges are fragile by nature and monitoring and advocacy are key to ensure that momentum is maintained, especially given the economic impacts of COVID-19. He sees monitoring, especially of population iodine status, as a new challenge ahead, pointing to a major household survey that had been planned in Ukraine. “We cannot do that now, and for good reason”, he said. “It’s even more important now for IGN to find easier and cheaper ways to do this kind of monitoring. We are working on that now as part of IGN’s future planning – we need to refocus and think about getting resources to do this new kind of work.”
Gregory joined IGN (formerly ICIDD) as Regional Coordinator in 1992, working through a network of national representatives in countries of Eastern Europe and Central Asia (Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan) , supporting the monitoring of iodized salt coverage, population iodine status, and the sustainable elimination of iodine deficiency.
In 1993, Gregory began to work with UNICEF in over 30 countries, primarily in Eastern Europe and Central Asia to support national programs to eliminate micronutrient malnutrition, especially iodine deficiency, through food fortification programs. He continues to work with both organizations, often in partnership, to prevent iodine deficiency in the region and around the world. He is encouraged by the renewed commitment of the Russian government, which has tabled legislation for salt iodization.
“We can learn a lot from the collapse of Soviet Union in the 1990s, where monitoring stopped after goiter was deemed to be eliminated,” says Gregory. “We must remain vigilant during this critical time to avoid the decline we saw back then. We need to continue to protect children from the effects of iodine deficiency.”
You can find out more about programs in Gregory’s region here
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