Forehead dot catches the eye of organization tackling iodine deficiency

Life Saving Dot has created bindis that slowly release the daily requirement of iodine into the skin.

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It is no secret that India has been struggling for many years to battle poor health for many years in an attempt to alleviate the condition of its citizens and improve its economy. However, campaigns by international organisations seem to have often fallen short in one aspect – their lack of cultural sensitivity, which in turn alienates most of the target group. Bindis are a trademark wear for thousands of Indian women, a little decorative dot that adorns their forehead. Highly popular, the bindi has been largely accepted as a cultural marker of Indian women. A Maharashtra based NGO, Neelvasant Medical Foundation and Research Centre (NMFRC) has come up with the idea of ‘Life Saving Dot’ i.e. bindis with iodine in it. The fact that iodine does not need to be ingested, but can simply be absorbed through the skin to provide nutritional benefits, has proved to be a great impetus for the project.

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According to The Borgen Project, “This bindi slowly releases the necessary amount of iodine, 150-200 micrograms, over the course of the day. It fits easily into the daily routine of any woman who normally wears a bindi, making it a convenient source of iodine. These bindis have been put into circulation by medical facilities in 100 villages and have been distributed to about 30,000 Indian women. Women receive a month’s supply, which costs 10 rupees or 16 cents.” The chief creative officer of Grey Group in Singapore Ali Shabaz points out,“It’s hard to get [rural women] to make massive behavioural changes”, he says. But here “all they have to do is wear the same bindi that they wear every day”.

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The issue of iodine deficiency is particularly precarious in India due to the low levels of iodine in the soil. Though the active marketing of iodised salt seeks to lessen the crisis, the situation is far from ideal. One deterring factor is the cost of buying such salt, depriving 350 million of the required amounts of iodine. The Borgen Project mentions that iodine deficiency can cause health problems such as goitre, an enlargement of the thyroid gland, and other thyroid conditions that can lead to breast cancer or fibroids. Iodine is especially important for pregnant women, who generally require double the amount than is typically needed. Pregnant women with iodine deficiencies can give birth to children with developmental problems or neurological conditions such as cretinism. In this respect, the Life Saving Dot or Jeevan Bindi as it is being called in local circles has the potential to be a revolutionary product for women, especially in rural India.

In a pilot plan in March, NMFRC launched the Jeevan Bindi campaign to help around 100,000 mostly tribal village women in some poverty-stricken pockets of Maharashtra. In the GGS-funded project, each woman is being handed out a strip of 30 Jeevan Bindis free for daily use over a month. Shabaz mentions that to increase circulation of the bindis, talks have been initiated with companies to assume charge of distribution as a part of the mandatory CSR scheme.

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The bindi, alongside the accolades it has garnered, has also invited a fair deal of criticism, especially from the medical circles. Dr. Chandrakant Pandav, professor and head of the Center for Community Medicine at New Delhi’s All India Institute of Medical Sciences has said, “With these bindis they are seeking to address the problems of the women, while children and men are being left out. Iodine supplementation with iodized salt is still the best solution to fight iodine deficiency disorders not only in Indian condition, but globally.” He also directs one to previous research on iodine administered through the skin where it was found that only about 12 percent of the solution was absorbed by the body.

Similarly, Sujoy Majumdar, an endocrinologist in Kolkata has pointed out that there is no clinical evidence to prove that the ‘bindi therapy’ is actually effective. The main line of argument being adopted by medical practitioners is that iodine supplements are cheaper and much more effective. In a similar vein, The Borgen Project also mentions that while the Life Saving Dot shows success, there are concerns that the iodine solution will evaporate and leave very little to be absorbed by the body, especially in the harsh sunlight. Therefore, they may need to carry a larger dose than the standard 200 micrograms. Many tests will need to be done before it can be certain that the bindis are effective. These include estimations for urinary iodine, radio-iodine uptakes and thyroid hormones.

Since the project is still in its pilot stage, its effectiveness or the lack of it is up for debate. However, the Life Saving Dot points to a fairly booming sphere of entrepreneurial efforts being pooled to tackle persistent problems in an innovative way. If given the proper stage and funding, these ideas may take the nation several steps forward in the area of global development.

All images are screengrabs from the video. 

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Literature student. Part time journalist. Harbouring crazy dreams of changing the world since 1993. more

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