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Chernobyl: Iodine could have prevented cancer

UNICEF says iodine could have prevented cancer among Chernobyl victims

Ahead of the 20th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear accident, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said today that iodized salt could have significantly lowered the numbers of exposed children who developed thyroid cancer and called for the supplement to be widely used throughout the affected region.

“For the 4,000 children in question, iodized salt could have made all the difference,” said, Maria Calivis, UNICEF Regional Director for Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States. “Many would have been spared from thyroid cancer,” she said, calling for universal salt iodization.

“And amid all the other vast numbers - 400,000 people uprooted from their homes; 5 million still living in contaminated areas; 100,000 still dependent on humanitarian aid - it is too easy to overlook what is small: a drop of iodine costing just a few cents.”

The explosion in the Chernobyl nuclear reactor on 26 April 1986 spread radiation over a wide swathe of land, mainly in Belarus, Ukraine, and the Russian Federation. The areas affected by Chernobyl were iodine deficient before the disaster, and are still iodine deficient today, according to UNICEF. Despite many efforts to get legislation passed on universal salt iodization in Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine, the issue is still being debated.

“After twenty years, there can be no excuse for further delay,” said UNICEF Regional Ambassador chess Grand Master Anatoly Karpov. “Universal salt iodization is the most effective way to ensure that every child gets enough iodine. It is also the cheapest way – costing only 4 cents per person, per year.”

Iodine deficiency disorders are the world’s leading cause of mental retardation and can lower the average IQ of a population by as much as 15 points. Even mild iodine deficiency during pregnancy can affect foetal brain development and, as a result, up to 2.4 million babies are born each year in Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States with mental impairment.

Meanwhile, in Minsk today, the Associate Administrator for the UN Development Programme (UNDP), Ad Melkert, conveyed a message of remembrance of the human casualties and vast damage caused by Chernobyl twenty years ago, but also said there is cause for hope in the region for the future.

“We are confident that Chernobyl has entered the right development path,” he told an international conference marking the 20 year anniversary of the accident. “It is already delivering practical solutions that, applied consistently, hold the prospect of restoring to millions the ‘normal life’ that Chernobyl so brutally curtailed 20 years ago.”

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