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The Little Fish Solving Iron Deficiency in Cambodia

  • Article by Amy Bradney-George
  • May 19, 2015 at 1:03 PM

A scientist has dreamed up a unique approach to dealing with iron deficiency in Cambodia by creating a small, metal fish to help people meet their daily requirements for this essential mineral.

Almost half of all people in Cambodia are iron deficient, with the condition leading to a range of other problems including anaemia, weakness, impaired cognitive function, compromised physical development, greater risk of illness, complicated pregnancies and even death.

But the Lucky Iron Fish could change that. This metal fish is smaller than a smartphone but when it’s added to boiling water or soup for 10 minutes it can provide 75% of the daily requirement of iron.

It was created by Canadian researcher Dr Christopher Charles (PhD) who took a research gig in Cambodia in 2008 after graduating from the University of Guelph.

Back then, a team was trying to get women to add lumps of iron to their cooking pots as a way of increasing their iron intake but Dr Charles said they weren’t having much success

“We knew some random piece of ugly metal wouldn’t work . . . so we had to come up with an attractive idea,” he says in an interview with The Toronto Star in 2011.

“It became a challenge in social marketing.”

When Dr Charles realised fish were a symbol of luck for Cambodians, the idea for the Lucky Iron Fish was born. The people in the village were happy to add it to their cooking, and iron levels began to rise.

Since then, the fish has been introduced on a wider scale, and a business formed around the Lucky Iron Fish. The organisation says it’s helped over 46,000 people increase their iron intake and lead better lives.

“After just 9 months of using the Lucky Iron Fish every day, we saw a 50% decrease in the incidence of clinical iron deficiency anemia, and an increase in users’ iron levels,” the Lucky Iron Fish website says.

“And people are feeling the difference. That’s why the Lucky Iron Fish has become an integral part of their lives.”

The organisation is running a range of campaigns with traditional and social media, hoping to develop more awareness about this life-changing little fish so that it can help more people around the world. The Lucky Iron Fish website has resources and information about this program, as well as donation options – and you can buy a Lucky Iron Fish for yourself for $25, with all purchases leading to the donation of a fish for a family in Cambodia.

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