Scientific research has proved that iodine deficiency ultimately leads to preventable mental retardation and brain damage, infant mortality, miscarriage and still birth. It is reported that out of 312 districts surveyed by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, 254 districts are marked as red-flag as the people live in those geographical region suffered from iodine deficiency and this is declared as one of the major public health problems in India. Reportedly, the consumption of iodised salt is remarkably lower in the rural population basically due to lack of awareness about the utility of iodine as one of the vital nutrient elements of food and thus UNICEF has been making efforts to generate awareness of such problem and assess the levels of iodine in salt through scientific instruments.
Trained personnel of partner organisations roaming around rural regions of districts and assess the levels of iodine element in salt and generate awareness through creative media, both within community and among retail, stock market traders and institutions such as schools (such as ICDS) that serve mid-day meal to children across the country.
This is the second phase of Nutrition Project and the new phase has started from July, 2010. The project officially named as 'Promotion of Universal Salt Iodisation through Awareness Generation and Market Survey for Salt Quality' and for greater access and reach it is being implemented in six districts namely Purulia, Maldah, Birbhum, Murshidabad, North Dinajpur and South Dinajpur of West Bengal covering 901 Gram Panchayats of 97 Blocks.
The major activities of the project include: salt sample collection from household, shopkeepers, retail traders and test salt, awareness generation programmes about the need, benefits and importance of quality iodised salt for both pregnant mothers and children as well; ensure availability of quality iodised salt within local markets from retail traders, mass awareness and necessary action against illegal trade practices; capacity building of NGOS, CBOS, voluntary initiatives for awareness and corresponding strategies to ensure availability and usage of iodised salt, networking and liaison with representatives of local self-government and health care institutions and provide necessary support services for mass awareness through IEC campaign. In the first phase of the programme we have been able to cover 12650 household units in the two districts of West Bengal namely (Purulia, Murshidabad) and achieve substantial success due to systematic intervention.
This has been possible due to technical support, guidance and highest level of cooperation from UNICEF. Since the very beginning of our activities we have been implementing community based health care and hygiene awareness camps across the project locations. Due to our strategic planning and timely intervention, we have been able to produce good results such as: the dominating trends of malaria parasite virtually decreased and the propensity to such phenomenon has been decreased to 10-15% from 60, 70% yearly on an average, large number of people are now demanding health check-up facilities at government health care institutions, because of regular follow-up and counseling.