Traditional Bindis Are Solving Iodine-Deficiency Health Risks

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SEATTLE — Millions of Indian women suffer from breast cancer, fibrocystic breast disease and other pregnancy-related complications every year. A mineral deficiency is suspected to be the primary cause.

Iodine deficiency affects over 71 million Indian women and nearly 350 million people are at risk. The risk is heightened for many in agricultural and rural areas because the soil is iodine-deprived. Most families do not even have access to iodized salt. However, the mineral is necessary to make certain thyroid hormones, critical for women’s physical and mental health, and for brain development of the fetus during pregnancy. While a simple pill could address the issue, women did not have access to them, were not provided with them or were not taking them. However, Indian NGO The Neelvasant Medical Foundation and Research Centre collaborated with Grey for Good to address the issue and resolve the easily preventable affliction this mineral deficiency was causing for Indian women.

Nearly all Indian women wear bindis. To the rest of the world, a bindi is the small dot often spotted on an Indian woman’s forehead. It is a traditional sign of beauty, and is often indicative of religious practices or married status in Indian culture. They are worn by women of all ages and come in all colors, shapes and sizes.

The Life Saving Dot is an initiative used to help women get more daily iodine when they otherwise may not be receiving enough of it. Iodine can be absorbed through the skin, so the Life Saving Dot acts as an iodine-dispensing patch while simultaneously appearing to be a traditional bindi. Each Dot contains the recommended daily dose of iodine and is helping prevent medical problems for the wearers throughout the country for about $0.16 a month. In short, seemingly traditional bindis are opening an avenue to solving iodine-deficiency health risks simply by their very cultural presence and inherent medical function.

There is still some research being conducted on the Dot, as UNICEF senior micronutrient adviser Roland Kupka noted that particularly harsh weather conditions may decrease the effectiveness, as the sun may induce evaporation of the iodine after a certain amount of exposure. So far, the iodine-rich bindis have been distributed to over 100 villages and have reached 30,000 women. While the patch by itself may not be the final answer to India’s iodine problem, at the very least, it has created an awareness campaign.

Grey Group Singapore CCO Ali Shabaz spoke on how simple the Dot is in providing a solution to a major nutritional problem. Further, Shabaz forecasts how easily this program can be expanded in India to continue growing the population of Indian women who consistently receive this vital mineral and are vastly more capable of living a healthier life because of it.

However, while this innovation is tackling a specific nutrient problem in a specific country, the innovations that can stem from the Life Saving Dot are limitless. Sometimes the solutions to big problems do not need to be complicated. In this case, traditional bindis are opening an avenue to solving iodine-deficiency health risks in India. However, with another cultural staple and another nutritional dispensing method, another country may soon see the answer to its own health concerns.

Taylor Elkins

Photo: Flickr

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About Author

Taylor Elkins

Taylor lives in Raleigh, NC. Her background is in biology and her current academic interests are in law and general advocacy projects. In her free time Taylor plays hand drums for a worship group, runs races, and walks dogs for the SPCA.

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