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How Cagayan Valley successfully addressed iodine deficiency

Salt is essential to human health. It is said to be the most widely used and oldest form of adding flavor to and preserving food.

Salt is the cheapest yet one of the most powerful natural minerals. 

In Cagayan Valley, salt played a key role in the eradication of Iodine Deficiency Disorder, an epidemic that affected the region from the 1980s up to the 1990s. 

According to the Philippine Health Advisory, Iodine Deficiency Disorder (IDD) refers to the abnormalities when the body does not get enough iodine. It usually leads to hypothyroidism which may result in mental retardation, growth restriction, physical deformities, miscarriages, and stillbirths. 

How did salt resolve the serious health-related problem? 

Based on the 1998 National Nutrition Survey conducted by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute on urinary iodine excretion, 30.59 percent of the school children in the Cagayan Valley Region have goiter. 

Aside from this, several male individuals also suffered from goiter during those years, an alarming situation as it is supposed to be more prevalent in females, especially during pregnancy and the menopausal stage.  

This was the reason why the National Nutrition Council (NNC) seriously advocated the implementation of Republic Act 8172 or the Act Promoting Salt Iodization Nationwide, also known as the ‘ASIN Law’. 

The law requires salt manufacturers to fortify their produce with iodine. 

The National Nutrition Council Region 2 presents an update on the enforcement of the ASIN law in the Cagayan Valley Region. (Photo courtesy of NNC 2)

At that time, the government thought that food fortification was the best intervention to counter health-related deficiencies, and salt was chosen as it is a common commodity and feasible for iodine fortification. 

Maria Gisela Lonzaga, nutrition program coordinator in Region 2, said there have been several interventions implemented by the different government agencies for the eradication of the iodine deficiency problem in the region. 

One intervention, she said, is the creation of the ‘Bantay Asin Task Force’ composed of various members of the Regional Nutrition Committee tasked to monitor the enforcement of the ASIN Law. 

“There was a massive advocacy campaign on the use of iodized salt from the year the survey result was out. The Barangay Nutrition Scholars and Barangay Health Workers went house-to-house to check on the salt being used by the households if iodized. They also also check salts sold in the market even in sari-sari stores,” Lonzaga said. 

Aside from these, there are also other interventions implemented by the local government and the members of the regional nutrition committee but there was one best practice to which the successful eradication of IDD is attributed - the establishment of a salt checkpoint in the entry points of the region.

Maria Gisela Lonzaga, nutrition program coordinator on the National Nutrition Council Region 2, orients a staff of the Bantay Asin Task Force checkpoint in Sta. Fe, Nueva Vizcaya. (Photo courtesy of NNC 2)
Orlando Pichay Jr. mans the operation of the Asin Checkpoint in Sta. Fe, Nueva Vizcaya. (Photo courtesy of NNC 2)

“We installed two checkpoints in the gateways of our region. One in Sta Fe, Nueva Vizcaya for those coming in from the National Capital Region and Central Luzon areas, and one in Sta Praxedes, Cagayan for those from the Ilocos Region,” Lonzaga said. 

Local government officials, the police, and the agriculture department assigned personnel to man the checkpoint to flag down and check whether all salt shipments were iodized.

“During the early stage of implementation, we have an iodine checker who determines if the salt is fortified with iodine. Now, we use a WYD iodine checker to determine if the salt is adequately iodized. We also thank the Department of Science and Technology because they produced the re-agent needed for the tests,” Lonzaga explained. 

Lonzaga said salt is properly iodized if it contains 30 to 70 parts per million of iodine per sample. She said it is vital to ensure that the salts for human consumption are properly iodized. 

“If the salts are not iodized or they are not adequately iodized based on the results of the tests, the shipment will be sent back to its origin,” Lonzaga said. 

Orlando Pichay Jr, team leader of the Bantay Asin Checkpoint, inspects a truck containing 50,000 kilograms of salt to be shipped in Region 2 areas. (Photo courtesy of Orlando Pichay)

According to Lonzaga, the shipments, which failed to pass the iodization standard cannot be confiscated as the law only mandates manufacturers to properly iodize their produce. The region also doesn’t have a storage facility for confiscated salt products. 

“With these efforts of the government, we successfully eradicated iodine deficiency disorder in 2013. But we were not complacent of that, instead, we sustained and strengthened further our efforts,” Lonzaga added. 

Orlando Pichay. Jr, the team leader of the Bantay Asin checkpoint in Nueva Vizcaya, admitted that they encounter several challenges from the salt shippers during the early years of the checkpoint implementation as truckloads of not properly iodized salt shipments were being sent back to their origin. 

“But with this effort, we can see the decelerating trend of not adequately iodized salt that is being shipped in the region. I believe the manufacturers have realized that we are serious about enforcing the ASIN law,” Pichay said.  

Further, to ensure the sustainability of the programs and initiatives, the task force conducts regular meetings to update its members on the enforcement of the law. The team also continuously conducts advocacy campaigns on the use of iodized salt and its importance to human health.

Gomel C. Gabuna, regional director of the Food and Drugs Administration, said that though checkpoints are in place, there is still a need for advocacy campaigns to consumers and retailers on how to properly store their salts. 

“Salts should not be exposed to heat and sunlight. The containers should not be transparent because iodine evaporates at a hot temperature,” he said. 

Aside from these, the task force also conducted advocacy visits to salt manufacturers and small-time salt producers in the Ilocos region to campaign for salt iodization. 

Recently, based on the Expanded National Nutrition Survey results, the Cagayan Valley Region registered the highest percentage of usage of adequately iodized salt in the entire country with 53.2 percent, way higher than the 35.1 percent for the national level. 

Employees of LGU Solano, Nueva Vizcaya test salt samples from their public market, witnessed by Bantay Asin Task Force team leader Orlando Pichay Jr. (Photo courtesy of NNC 2)

Now, the Bantay Asin Task Force is being adopted by other regions seeing its effectiveness in eradicating iodine deficiency disorder. The task force also received commendations from the NNC and other health organizations for its success in combating IDD in Cagayan Valley. (OTB/PIA Region 2) 

About the Author

Oliver Baccay

Information Officer IV

Region 2

  • Assistant Regional Director, Philippine Information Agency Region 2
  • Graduate of Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communication 
  • Graduate of Master of Arts in Education, major in English
  • Graduate of Doctor in Public Administration

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