Just over half of us on this planet are either women or will someday grow up to be women. On March 8, International Women's Day, women of all ages should be celebrated for their many gifts and contributions to our world community. I would also like to celebrate how micro-nutrient interventions have the potential to enable women to continue to be strong, brilliant and safe.
Be Strong — Prevent Anemia:
Anemia affects over 450 million women and over 56 million pregnant women. About half of this anemia is due to iron deficiency. For biological reasons, women need more iron than men, even more during pregnancy to support the growing fetus. In many households around the world, even when there are sufficient food sources available, women often go without to ensure others in the family or household have enough.
For many families in developing countries, the available and accessible food is not enough to meet women's iron needs, and even less so for pregnant women. Long-term agricultural strategies can improve local food systems and availability of nutrient dense foods. However, iron and folic acid supplements can help reduce anemia for women, supporting their energy needs. For pregnant women, these supplements can mean a healthier pregnancy and a healthier baby.
Be Brilliant — Prevent unnecessary brain damage:
Iodine deficiency is the leading cause of preventable brain damage and can affect the IQ of entire populations. For pregnant women, iodine deficiency can result in poor pregnancy outcomes for the mother and cognitive deficits in the newborn, which could grow into a child with an unnecessary deficit of over 10 IQ points. Iodization of salt is one of the most cost-effective public health nutrition interventions to date.
A lot of progress has been made in delivering iodized salt, but about one third of households still lack access to adequately iodized salt. Supporting producers, including small-scale producers, is part of the solution, which governments can support with policies and quality control. It is estimated that salt iodization can cost as little as 2-3 cents per person reached. The women working in iodization of salt in Senegal are benefiting from access to locally iodized salt. More importantly, their work is helping the economy and health of their families and community.
An unintended reported benefit of having ASHAs, community-based Accredited Social Health Activist volunteers in India, stocked with zinc & oral re-hydration salts (ORS) is that women said they felt safer. Why is this? Because in many parts of rural India, gender-based violence is a worry for women. Night time is when many mothers become aware of their child's diarrhea episodes. Walking alone at night to the nearest health centre can bring uncertainty and danger.
However, when a neighbouring female is a health volunteer, the walk is shorter and the safety risk to get the treatment of zinc & ORS for her child is decreased. There are also examples of countries like Bangladesh and Ethiopia where zinc & ORS are available for purchase closer to home from small local shops. For those women who are called "mom", we can help them feel safer by bringing access to life-saving treatment for them and their children closer to home.
Whether it is IFA supplements, iodized salt, or zinc & ORS all nutrition interventions work much better when delivered with respect, and the intention to improve the lives of women.
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