While on a trip to Cambodia several years ago, Dr. Christopher Charles, a Canadian science graduate, noticed that many of the children in the village he visited were weak and lacking the mental development of their first-world peers. The problem — one estimated to impact more than 3.5 billion people around the globe — was a lack of iron in their diets or what's more commonly known as anemia.
While anemia can be easily cured with iron supplements, the BBC notes that access to iron tablets is neither affordable nor widespread. Determined to help some other way, Charles set about devising an elegantly beautiful solution: a lump of natural ferrous iron forged into the shape of a smiling fish, a symbol of good luck.
"Boil up water or soup with the iron fish for at least 10 minutes…you can then take it out," Charles said in an interview. "Now add a little lemon juice, which is important for the absorption of the iron."
According to the site, cooking with the Lucky Iron Fish can provide up to 75 percent of an adult's daily iron intake and nearly 100 percent for children. Unlike supplements, which can cause side effects, Charles' invention releases a much smaller amount of iron with no negative impact.
"These sort of approaches are so much better than iron tablets, which are really horrible," professor Imelda Bates, head of the international public health department at Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, told the BBC. "If it's something that is culturally acceptable and not too costly, then any improvement to anemia levels would be of great benefit."
In early trials in Cambodia, half of those who cooked with the Lucky Iron Fish cured their anemia in 12 months. Since then, more than 46,000 men, women, and children have all benefited from the product.
"Rural families all recommended it to their friends and family to use the fish because they felt it was bringing them luck," CEO Gavin Armstrong told Co.Design. "But in actuality it was bringing them health."
Want to help support the Lucky Iron Fish campaign? You can purchase a school of fish for Cambodia for $25 or pick up your own Lucky Iron Fish for $25 and another will be donated in kind.
"When you buy me, the Lucky Iron Fish will donate one of my friends to a family in Cambodia," the product site reads. "The Sihanouk Hospital Center of Hope makes sure my friends get to the people who need them most."