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Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Joins UNICEF And Kiwanis International To Eliminate Iodine Deficiency Disorders

Foundation awards $15 million to fight world's leading cause of mental retardation

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
206-709-3400
Marissa Buckanoff
U.S. Fund for UNICEF
Phone: (212) 922-2485

NEW YORK -- The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has awarded $15 million to the U.S. Fund for UNICEF toward its global efforts, in partnership with Kiwanis International, to eliminate Iodine Deficiency Disorders, commonly known as IDD. Iodine deficiency is the world's leading preventable cause of mental retardation, with over one-third of the global population at risk due to a lack of naturally available iodine in the soil. More than 1.5 billion people, of which approximately one-third are children, are estimated to be at risk of IDD. The new grant will be used to fight IDD in priority regions and countries worldwide, including Eastern Europe, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

"Iodine deficiency has an enormous impact on communities and nations," said Dr. Gordon Perkin, Director of the Global Health Program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "By joining this historic partnership, we believe we can help children around the globe get the nutrition they need so they can reach their full potential."

IDD occurs when people do not receive iodine in their diets on a regular basis – and it can be easily corrected by adding iodine to salt. IDD affects individual intelligence and can lower the IQ of a population by as much as 13 points. The problem of iodine deficiency is especially serious for pregnant women and young children. During pregnancy, even milder deficiencies can retard fetal development and result in physical and mental retardation. Other effects of IDD include goiter, abnormal physical development, reproductive loss, and severe mental and physical retardation, an irreversible condition known as cretinism.

In 1994, Kiwanis pledged to raise $75 million to eliminate IDD, of which over half has already been raised.

"Kiwanis International is as committed as ever to its global goal of eliminating IDD," said its president, Bo Shafer. "This gift is a tremendous boost in our final push to get the job done." The Kiwanis/UNICEF project goal is to provide technology to iodize, store and distribute salt, as well as to educate about the disorders.

IDD has been virtually eliminated as a public health threat in developed nations. Worldwide, more than 70 percent of households now have access to iodized salt, compared to just 20 percent in 1990. There remain, however, more than 30 developing nations where less than half of the population uses iodized salt.

Eighty-five million newborns are protected each year from a significant loss in learning ability because of iodized salt and as a result of the IDD partnership, which also includes: WHO, the World Bank, the International Council for the Control of IDD, the Program Against Micronutrient Malnutrition, the Micronutrient Initiative, USAID, the governments of Australia, Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands and the United States – and the salt industry.

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The U.S. Fund for UNICEF works for the survival, protection and development of children worldwide through education, advocacy and fundraising. Created in 1947, it is the oldest of 37 national committees around the world that support UNICEF's mission. For more information on the U.S. Fund for UNICEF and its partners, call 1-800-FOR-KIDS, or visit them on the web.

Kiwanis International has more than 600,000 adult and student members in more than 15,500 service clubs in 79 countries. The organization is dedicated to "serving the children of the world" by performing community service and raising money for various projects, including the campaign to eliminate IDD. Funds raised by Kiwanis members worldwide have already prevented IDD in millions of children and their families.

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