Way to goiter!

In International Development, Public Health, Sustainable Development on December 17, 2006 at 3:53 am

This is the most emailed article in the NYT today, about the huge effort to iodize salt in Central Asia in the last 15 years. There are some good lessons here for sustainable development work. Mostly, I was interested to read about using local symbols and famous people to get the masses on board.

The target problem was that there was a high level of mental retardation in Central Asia, among other places, and it was found that using iodized salt would be the most effective way to reduce the problem. So, governments and NGO’s got together to publicize the benefits of using iodized salt instead of non-iodized. That was half the battle, the other was getting salt producers to iodize their salt.

What they did, and here’s what I liked – they devised a recognizable and familiar symbol to put on iodized salt so people at the market could easily tell which salt to buy. Then famous local celebrities who’s opinions were respected were brought on board to remove the stigma that iodized salt somehow had to it.

This kind of thing has parallels all over the world, especially in developing countries. When I was working for the Carter Center in Niger doing Guinea Worm eradication work, we used to treat water sources to kill the Guinea worm vector (click the link to learn more) – it was a very mild chemical that would disperse within 3 weeks, and it was as harmless as using fluoride in the water… But depending on how the villagers felt that day, some would blame us for their decreased virility while others would say their kids were smarter.

Perception is everything – the lesson being that marketing is a very important and integral part of any public health intervention.


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