LONDON -- Today, the International Zinc Association (IZA) announces new commitments to fund UNICEF programmes in Brazil against zinc deficiency, a public health threat that contributes to the deaths of more than 450,000 children each year. At the beginning of 2011 IZA and UNICEF will identify an additional programme in the African continent, where zinc deficiency is also affecting children. IZA support will be allocated to region where the most needs are identified.
These commitments will be administered through the IZA's "Zinc Saves Kids" initiative, which has already committed US$3 million to similar UNICEF programmes in Peru and Nepal.
Zinc micronutrient deficiency is a significant public health issue, causing 800,000 deaths overall and putting at risk more than two billion people due to ailments such as diarrhea, pneumonia and malaria. Many of these cases are preventable with a simple zinc supplement or through zinc-enhanced fertilizers. Furthermore, improved zinc nutrition is vital to children's cognitive development and learning.
Stephen Wilkinson, Executive Director of the International Zinc Association, said: "Zinc supplements are effective and affordable yet underutilised public health interventions. This inexpensive response should be recognised by all child health policymakers to put an end to the global crisis of zinc deficiency."
Paul Martin, UNICEF's representative in Peru, said: "Through this partnership, the International Zinc Association is helping UNICEF to improve child survival, growth and development outcomes through the provision of zinc containing micronutrient supplements to children. With the continued collaboration of these partners, we are one step closer to guaranteeing the rights of all children and preventing needless deaths and suffering due to zinc deficiency."
Public awareness of this critical public health issue is increasing, but many are still unaware of the threat it poses or how it can be treated:
Since 2004, the World Health Organisation and UNICEF have recommended zinc supplements for the management of diarrhoea. Since then, about 50 governments have changed their child health policies to include zinc for diarrhoea management.
Between 2006 and 2008, UNICEF procurement of zinc tablets increased from 20 million to more than 150 million. But this is only a fraction of what is needed to treat affected children worldwide.
In September 2009, former President Bill Clinton noted of the zinc supplementation programmes that "there is almost no other strategy on earth that could save that many lives for that little money…, [yet] this is something 90 per cent of us are unaware of or wouldn't have a clue as to what to do about it."
Last month, the "Zinc Saves Kids" initiative was highlighted to German Members of Parliament as an example of innovative use of metals in the modern world. Over 200 metals industry executives convened at Tempelhof airport in Berlin on 28 September where Dr. Jürgen Heraeus, the Chairman of UNICEF Germany, presented the initiative.
Zinc Saves Kids
The Zinc Saves Kids initiative was launched at the Clinton Global Initiative in September 2009 by the International Zinc Association, to improve the survival, growth and development of undernourished children by funding UNICEF-supported zinc programmes around the world. The programme receives advisory support from a consortium of medical professionals.
The International Zinc Association (IZA)
The IZA is a non-profit organization representing the global zinc industry by promoting zinc's essentiality in present and potential product applications, human health and crop nutrition and by highlighting zinc's contribution to sustainable development. IZA has been active in zinc and nutrition efforts by supporting scientific research, publishing information materials and holding conferences. IZA also supports the International Zinc Nutrition Consultative Group (IZiNCG) and Zinc Saves Kids.
UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world's largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.