Anemia is a common problem worldwide with nearly 25 percent of the world population affected by it. Preschool children and pregnant women are even more at risk with more than 40 percent of them being anemic. About 50 percent of anemia is thought to be caused by an iron deficiency. It has a negative effect on the mental and physical growth of children, as well as negative consequences on work productivity for adults. It can raise the risks of maternal mortality and premature labor, and can cause lethargy in all ages.

It’s no understatement to say that iron deficiency is a huge problem, which was why I was so pleased to hear about a simple, inexpensive solution that is proving to be a success in battling iron deficiency.

Introducing the iron fish.

Christopher Charles is a Canadian epidemiologist who was studying anemia in Cambodia. Iron supplements and even cast iron pots (they impart iron to the food cooked in them) were too expensive for most Cambodians. He wondered if just a small piece of cast iron would provide enough iron, and decided to test it out.

Charles distributed small iron bricks to the cooks of the family — the women — and told them to place it in their pots when cooking. It was an excellent idea, but they apparently weren’t impressed with the rather industrial look of the brick, and so the bricks got relegated to the work of a doorstop.

Charles knew that he needed to find a way to make the iron appeal to this specific group, so he talked to the village elders to get an idea of what would be a meaningful shape. A fish known as try kantrop was a frequently eaten staple, and was symbolic of good luck.

Charles tried again, this time with the iron shaped as a fish — a good luck symbol. After that, the women started cooking with it, and 12 months later, anemia is virtually nonexistent in the villages in which it has been distributed.

Cast iron can take a wide range of shapes to appeal to any village or country, allowing this idea to be a sustainable, inexpensive way to effectively help those most at risk for iron-caused anemia. 

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