Gumii Paarlaamaa Oromoo (GPO)
Oromo Parliamentarians Council (OPC)
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Sunday, April 20, 2008
"I have never seen any other country like this. If this problem continues, a generation will suffer." (Dr. Iqbal Kabir, UNICEF Head of Nutrition and Food Security in Ethiopia)
Dr. Kabir was referring to what he and his colleagues at UNICEF called in their report “A silent epidemic” - Iodine deficiency Disorder (IDD) – in Oromia. He had led a team of UNICEF staff on its second field trip to Western Oromia between April 22nd and 24th, 2007 to investigate the prevalence of IDD in that region and returned “absolutely convinced [that] the situation needs to be intervened without further delay”. His team consisted of a communication expert and a nutrition consultant, both from UNICEF. The epidemic had been officially reported to UNICEF by Obbo Mesfin Namrraa – a WAFIDO MP from Najjoo - with a request to assess the situation and provide support. Obbo Mesfin accompanied the UNICEF team on the trip. Having visited some waradas in Illu Abbaa Booraa the previous year and Ghimbi, Gullisoo, Boojji Birmajii and other waradas in Wallaga this time around, and having met the affected population and local Health Department officials, the team compiled its trip report titled “A silent Epidemic” in which it categorized the problem as “severe public health problem according to World Health Organization’s (WHO) cut-off point.”
According to this report, “young children, adolescent boys and girls, pregnant and lactating women and elderly women” are the most affected segment of the population. In one house hold of six, the team observes, the mother (age 28) and all of her children ranging in age from five to twelve all suffered from goiter. The report goes on to say: “the situation in Gullisso Primary School was even more alarming – in that particular shift of 400 – 500 children attending classes, a very significant number has visible goiter.” The team also tested salt samples sold in the area and found that “the samples tested absolutely negative for iodine content.”
Statistics from Oromia Regional Health Department dwarfs even the gloomy picture painted by Dr. Kabir’s team report. According to this statistic, almost 3 million people suffer from IDD just in Wallaga and Illu Abbaa Booraa regions alone.
Estimate of population
Affected by IDD in 4 Zones of oromia
While it is difficult to estimate the number of population affected across all Oromia zones, Global Scorecard 2008 puts the prevalence of goiter in the Ethiopian Empire at 53.3%. (Read here) Some have attributed the recent upsurge of IDD in the country to the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea. Assab, Eritrea, which supplied Ethiopia with iodized salt, has ceased to do so since the war between the two countries begu -(Read here.) This theory is consistent with what the head of one of the Zone Health Departments had to say about the timing of the upsurge. Asked when the problem was first observed, he said “the problem started to show up over the last 7 – 9 years period. The peripheral Kelem woredas were affected first … and gradually moved to more central areas over the last 2 – 3 years.” He goes on to say he, and others have reported the situation to Oromia Regional Health Bureau but “no intervention measures have been taken.”
What is IDD?
IDD is caused by lack of enough iodine in the diet - Iodine being a kind of mineral needed by the thyroid gland for healthy functioning. A visible sign of IDD in a person is goiter, a swollen neck caused by a swollen thyroid gland. Goiter due to iodine deficiency is a worldwide problem; in particular communities in developing countries are at risk. Consumption of salt not fortified with iodine may be partly to blame for iodine deficiencies. Various governments around the world are being urged to step up efforts to promote the consumption of iodine-enriched salt to combat iodine deficiency in populations of their respective countries. Another proven method of prevention of iodine deficiency is to introduce iodine into the public waters supply, an option which is not available to Oromia. However, provision of iodine fortified salt for public consumption is cheap and affordable method of prevention of IDD.
Once considered a minor problem causing goiter, according to International Council for the Control of IDD (ICCIDD), IDD is “the single most common cause of preventable mental retardation and brain damage in the world.” Among its devastating effects on social and economic development of the affected population are impaired growth and development in children as children with IDD can grow up “stunted, apathetic, mentally retarded, and incapable of normal movements, speech, or hearing”; causing miscarriages, stillbirths, and other complications in pregnant women and many others - (Read here.)
According to UNICEF, IDD “takes its greatest toll in impaired mental growth and development, which contributes to poor school performance, reduced intellectual ability, and impaired work performance.” - (Read here)
Many have written urging the world community to intervene without delay. The Diaspora Oromo Community should take part in this large scale advocacy work, including raising awareness, educating the public and fund raising activities. Doing nothing would be tantamount to condemning millions of Oromo people, particularly children, to a life of few prospects and continued underdevelopment.
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