By Anil Gulati
Guna (Madhya Pradesh): It was in December 2005, that a local NGO organized a workshop for school students to promote the use of iodised salt, with support from UNICEF. Salt monitors had asked the students to get salt samples from their homes for testing to give them hands-on training. They were aghast after discovering that only 14 per cent of salt samples brought by the students from their homes were adequately iodised.
After the shocking revelation in the schools, HAREETH the NGO which conducted the salt survey, turned to the weekly `haats’ (rural markets). Along with administrative support from the state and salt testing kits supplied by UNICEF, the volunteers went from vendor to vendor testing salt. ``The most astonishing experience was in Jaligaon, a village in the Chachora block. More than 70 per cent of households were using salt that resembled lumps of clay. "We had never seen salt like that,’’ recalled Ajay Singh Raghuvanshi, of HAREETH. ``The village was using that same salt for consumption of humans and domestic cattle. And as expected, when tested the salt showed 0 ppm iodine.’’
``We went to the markets and tested the salts right before the eyes of the vendors,’’ said Mikky Singh of HAREETH. ``Most of them argued that adequately iodised salt was expensive and customers in the remote rural areas could not afford them. We informed them that there were brands that sold salt at a paltry price of Rs 4 a kg but were adequately iodised. We gave each trader a salt testing kit and started calling meetings with vendors every three months.’’
Traders started testing different brands to determine which ones were adequately iodised that would suit the pockets of villagers. In the market meetings, NGO volunteers spoke on the necessity of consuming iodised salt and the diseases which could develop as a result of deficiency.
Street plays were organised for the public. Women took immense interest when they were told that iodised salt meant 'smarter, more intelligent children’. ``No mother wants her children’s development especially of the brain, to be affected. Hence after six months of educating villagers, vendors and school children, the results started coming in. We noticed vendors were stocking iodised salt and villagers were shopping for it,’’ Ajay Singh said.
Sanjeev Jain, a shopkeeper in Aaron said: ``Over the past year, there has been a general enlightenment. Not only are we selling iodised salt, even farmers come specifically asking for it. The price is hardly a consideration. People are willing to pay a rupee extra but insist on iodised salt.’’
In schools, teachers were given salt testing kits and anganwadi workers were provided the same. Any child who wanted to test the iodine content of salt could bring a sample from home and a drop of that starch with citric acid liquid would tell if it was the right salt. The colour of salt changing to a dark violet is a game they love to play.
In September-October 2006 -- 6,824 samples were collected from students across 200 schools in all five blocks of Guna. As many as 25.68 per cent samples tested with the adequate iodine content of 15 ppm while 30.86 per cent tested between 7ppm to 14 ppm. In December it was 29.06 per cent which had 15 ppm iodine. NGOs have carried out surveys again and they hope to reach about 40 percent levels for salt with adequate levels.
To support the process District Collector of Guna G.K. Saraswat issued an official order on April 30, 2007 instructing the public distribution system to only sell iodised salt at an affordable price of Rs 2 per kg. The district administration has notified the women and child welfare department, revenue department, education department, health and food department that any edibles served to children, women, patients and members of the public will have to be prepared in iodised salt.