Iodine-induced goitre and high prevalence of anaemia among Saharawi refugee women


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Public Health Nutrition;15(8)


Cambridge University Press

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Objective: The main objective was to assess iodine status (thyroid volume (Tvol) and urinary iodine concentration (UIC)) and their determinants in Saharawi refugee women. Design: A cross-sectional survey was performed during January–February 2007. Tvol was measured by ultrasound and iodine concentration was analysed in spot urine samples and in household drinking water. Anthropometry and Hb concentration were measured and background variables were collected using pre-coded questionnaires. Setting: The survey was undertaken in four long-term refugee camps in the Algerian desert. Subjects: Non-pregnant women (n 394), 15–45 years old, randomly selected. Results: Median (25th percentile–75th percentile (P25–P75)) UIC was 466 (294–725)mg/l. Seventy-four per cent had UIC above 300mg/l and 46% above 500mg/l. Median (P25–P75) Tvol was 9?4 (7?4–12?0) ml and the goitre prevalence was 22 %. UIC was positively associated with iodine in drinking water and negatively associated with breast-feeding, and these two variables explained 28% of the variation in UIC. The mean (SD) Hb level was 11.8 (2.4) g/dl. In total 46% were anaemic with 14 %, 25% and 7%, classified with respectively mild, moderate and severe anaemia. Conclusions: The Saharawi women had high UIC, high levels of iodine in drinking water and increased Tvol and probably suffered from iodine-induced goitre. The high prevalence of anaemia is considered to be a severe public health concern. To what extent the excessive iodine intake and the anaemia have affected thyroid function is unknown and should be addressed in future studies. Keywords Excess urinary iodine Iodine-rich drinking water Saharawi refuge women Iron deficiency Women’s micronutrient status is of particular importance since it affects not only their own health, but also the health of their children(1). Deficiencies of iodine and Fe remain major public health problems, affecting .30% of the global population(2,3). Insufficient iodine intake as well as excess iodine intake may cause thyroid diseases(4). Fe deficiency is the most common and widespread micronutrient deficiency worldwide(3) and may have multiple adverse effects on thyroid metabolism(5). Refugees from Western Sahara have been settled in the Algerian desert since 1975 and they are totally dependent on food aid in the harsh, resource-poor desert environment. The refugee population is experiencing a number of challenges related to their food, nutrition and health situation(6). Endemic goitre has been reported among Saharawi schoolchildren and this is probably caused by iodine excess(7–10), but further studies are required to understand the aetiology. The main objective of the present paper is to assess iodine status (thyroid volume (Tvol) and urinary iodine concentration (UIC)) and their determinants in Saharawi refugee women of childbearing age. The secondary objective is to assess their prevalence of anaemia.



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