Zinc is an essential micronutrient for human health. It is vital for activating normal growth and neurological development in infants, children and teenagers. Zinc is found in all parts of the body. It is a component in more than 300 enzymes and influences hormones (McCall et al, 2000). Zinc also accelerates cell division and enhances the immune system. It is also vital in protecting the body from illnesses and fighting infections, and can reduce the duration and severity of a common cold or halt diarrhea (UN Food and Nutrition Bulletin, 2004).
More than two billion people worldwide are not getting enough zinc in their diets. Zinc deficiency is a major health problem in developing countries, especially among young children. Zinc deficiency weakens their immune system and leaves them vulnerable to conditions such as diarrhea, pneumonia and malaria. Over 800,000 people and 450,000 children are estimated to die each year indirectly from zinc deficiency (Black et al, 2008). Although diarrhea is preventable and treatable, in developing countries, less than 35% of children receive the recommended treatment of oral re-hydration salts and zinc supplements. In some countries such as India, this number is less than 1%. Due to the impact zinc can have in saving children’s lives, the former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon named zinc a “life-saving commodity” (UN Commission Report, 2012).
In 2008, the Copenhagen Consensus, a group of internationally acclaimed economists, including five Nobel Laureates, concluded that combating the world’s malnutrition problem through the provision of vitamin A and zinc was ranked the highest among the various cost-effective solutions to the world’s pressing problems.
In light of this global health issue, the zinc industry, through IZA, launched the Zinc Saves Kids initiative in support of UNICEF‘s global micronutrient supplementation program to address zinc deficiency for at-risk children. This initiative started in Nepal and Peru, where the programs’ success in improving human health lead to the governments’ adopting national programs to address zinc deficiency. Since then, IZA and the zinc industry have expanded efforts to save children’s lives with zinc micronutrient programs in numerous other countries such as India, the DRC, Senegal, Laos and Mexico.
For more information, visit the International Zinc Association website.
Read about MMG and UNICEF‘s micronutrient supplementation program – The 1000 Day Project.