Iron-deficiency anemia affects over 3.5 billion people globally. The Southeast Asian country of Cambodia has the highest rates of iron deficiency in the world as it affects about 44 per cent of the population which sums up to around 15 million people. Anemia is a condition in which an individual’s blood lacks adequate healthy red blood cells which impairs the process of delivering oxygen throughout the body.
Signs and symptoms of iron-deficiency anemia include extreme fatigue, chest pain, increased heartbeat rate or shortness of breath and it can also cause problems during pregnancy including premature labor and a developmental delay in children.
Scroll down to watch the video on these little iron fish
Cambodia has the highest rates of iron deficiency in the world as it affects around 15 million of it’s citizens
In 2008, a student from the University of Guelph named Christopher Charles completed his undergraduate degree in the field of biomedical science. He then received a grant from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) to do research in Cambodia regarding dietary iron deficiency.
The ‘Lucky Iron Fish’ is helping to eliminate iron-deficiency anemia
He worked with a group which was based in Praek Russei and they collected blood samples from the villagers in Kandal Province. Dr. Charles, who has received his PhD recently, noticed many of the children in the village who looked weak and showed signs of slow mental development. The pregnant women were constantly tired and faced multiple complications during and after their pregnancy.
“The iron does not change the taste of the water or food into which it is leached” says Armstrong
Using cast-iron kitchenware and consuming iron-rich foods such as red meat and iron supplements could help to cure this deficiency but it is almost impossible for the Cambodian people to afford such luxuries. Most Cambodian families live on $1 per day and are unable to have iron-rich foods or iron supplements in their diet.
Dr. Charles and his team members decided to distribute pieces of iron in the shape of a lotus flower to be used in the villagers daily cooking but the villagers rejected it. He then learned that there was a species of fish that the villagers believed to be a symbol of good luck and happiness. The team then changed the design of the chunk of iron to that of a smiling fish and it was received more positively by the villagers. “You can have the best treatment in the world, but if people won’t use it, it won’t matter,” stated Dr. Charles.
The fish shape is said to be a symbol of good luck and happiness
Dr. Charles explained how the iron fish is used. He says “Boil up water or soup with the iron fish for at least 10 minutes. That enhances the iron which leaches from it.” He continued “You can then take it out and add a little lemon juice which is important for the absorption of the iron.”
Currently there are around 2,500 families in Cambodia now using the iron fish daily. The Lucky Iron Fish company which was set up by Gavin Armstrong has helped in the efforts of distributing the iron chunks. Nearly 11,000 of these Lucky Iron Fish has been sent to hospitals and non-governmental organisations in the country.
The iron fish can be washed and reused as many times as needed