How An Iron Fish Can Help Millions of People

Anemia, caused mostly by iron deficiency, is one of the most widespread and consequential health afflictions in the world, impacting 30 percent of the world’s population, mainly children, teens, and young mothers. From constant fatigue and headaches, to potentially deadly hemorrhaging, it literally weakens entire communities and makes the already laborious lives of the poor even more miserable.

It is easy to take for granted the prevalence of iron in most developed-world diets. But for most people living in the developing world, such as in Cambodia, it can be difficult to grow or access iron-rich food, let alone take expensive and equally unavailable iron tablets. It is one of those problems that should not be so widespread and intractable, indicative of the pervasive neglect and inequality of many economic and political systems (and indeed the world).

The BBC highlights a promising solution by Canadian scientist Dr. Christopher Charles so simple and cost-effective that there can be no excuse for not implementing it. 

Dr. Charles had a novel idea. Inspired by previous research which showed that cooking in cast iron pots increased the iron content of food, he decided to put a lump of iron into the cooking pot, made from melted-down metal.

His invention, shaped like a fish, which is a symbol of luck in Cambodian culture, was designed to release iron at the right concentration to provide the nutrients that so many women and children in the country were lacking.

The recipe is simple, Dr Charles says.

“Boil up water or soup with the iron fish for at least 10 minutes.

“That enhances the iron which leaches from it.

“You can then take it out. Now add a little lemon juice which is important for the absorption of the iron.”

If the iron fish is used every day in the correct way, Dr Charles says it should provide 75% of an adult’s daily recommended intake of iron — and even more of a child’s.

Trials on several hundred villagers in one province in Cambodia showed that nearly half of those who took part were no longer anaemic after 12 months.

By being cheap to manufacture and distribute, as well as culturally acceptable, these 3-in, 7.1-oz iron fish are the most optimal solution to iron deficiency thus far (until most people are lifted out of poverty and can afford to eat better).

The Lucky Iron Fish company has distributed nearly 9,000 fish to hospitals and humanitarian groups across the country, with around 2,500 families now using it regularly. I hope to see a lot of other countries and regions emulate this model.

Simple yet profound solutions like this are worthy of far more attention and support than all the flashier tech that is most often touted. So many of the world’s problems can be addressed with just a little bit of creativity and compassion. Of course, alleviating poverty and inequality is the best and more comprehensive solution, but that would take a lot more creativity and compassion, among other things.

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