Plan to Fortify Rice

Panama had since 2009 to implement Law 33, where rice packaged in Panama must be fortified to reduce the cases of spina bifida in newborns.

After a delay of nine years, some public entities agreed to take a step towards the implementation of Law 33 of June 2009, which requires the State to fortify with nutrients all the rice consumed in the country.

This i pilot plan will begin next month in eight secondary schools, and in which students, especially women, will be supplied with rice fortified with folic acid, vitamins and other nutritional supplements, as established in the 2009 regulation.

The project will be supervised by the Ministry of Health (Minsa), the Ministry of Education (Meduca) and the Secretariat for the Food and Nutritional Security Plan (Senapan).

According to Franklin Corro, director of Senapan, the impact of these nutrients on young people will be measured over three months and  then fortify all the rice consumed in the country.

Minsa realizes that if all the women who could get pregnant consumed 400 milligrams per day of folic acid could prevent between 50% and 70% cases of spina bifida.

Each year around 100 babies born with neural tube defects (spina bifida) are born in the country. of which  68 will survive with certain disabilities as damage to the nervous system or spinal cord.

José Renán de León, from the Minsa Nutrition Directorate, said the plan will be implemented in  boarding schools, where young women have lunch and dinner, which will allow analyzing the impact or effectiveness of the fortification.

"The schools selected are in places where it is believed there could be  a  malnutrition problem" he said.

Meanwhile, Meduca reported that among the selected boarding schools are the first cycle Los Valles in Cañazas, first cycle Zapotillo in Las Palmas and the Normal School Juan Demóstenes Arosemena in Santiago. All three in the province of Veraguas.

Lara Arosemena, president of the Zero Limits Foundation, explained that currently only two companies selling  rice are complying with the regulations.

"This regulation was approved several years ago but authorities are not forcing its implementation," said the activist, who confirmed that, in effect, the fortification of rice could avoid many more cases of newborns with spina bifida.

Arosemena, who was born with this condition, said that fortification, like vitamin A supplementation, has reduced the prevalence of anemia in many areas. "Fortification with iron has increased the speed of growth, possibly determining an increase in appetite," he said.