About 100 nutrition experts from Central Asia will meet in Kazakhstan next week to discuss one of the most pressing health challenges that has faced the region in the past decade – malnutrition.
“Huge gains have been made in recent years in combating the problem, but many challenges remain, especially in getting governments to mandate that flour should be fortified with iron supplements,” said Rie Hiraoka, Senior Social Sector Specialist with the Asian Development Bank (ADB).
The Third Almaty Forum on Food Fortification will be held on 29-30 October in Almaty. Representatives from Governments, the food industry and civil society groups are expected to attend.
ADB has been combating malnutrition in Central Asia since 2001. It has invested US$8.8 million in projects in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Mongolia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction has been the main donor.
One of the main achievements has been that all six of the countries have adopted laws that require salt manufacturers to add iodine to the product before it is sold. Iodine deficiency can cause stillbirths, spontaneous abortions and premature deaths, stunted growth, and blunted intelligence.
Iron-deficiency anemia is another cause of malnutrition that is common in the region. Anemia causes the deaths of pregnant women and constrains the cognitive development of children. The easiest way to combat the problem is to add iron to a staple food as it is being produced. In Central Asia, that staple is wheat flour and progress has been made in getting many millers to do so. Uzbekistan has set a target of having a third of its wheat flour fortified with iron, while Kazakhstan is aiming for 60%. However, no Central Asian government has yet passed legislation requiring all wheat flour be fortified, which has hampered progress.
The purpose of the forum is to review progress made so far in the fight against malnutrition, review achievements combating the problem in other parts of the world and to set new goals to move forward.