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A new initiative is to help developing countries add essential minerals and vitamins to basic foods in a bid to end millions of cases of illness and death caused by a lack of micronutrients.

The Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) announced last week that it will initially help four countries — China, Morocco, South Africa and Vietnam — to add micronutrients such as iron, iodine, folic acid and vitamin A to everyday foods such as salt, flour, oil, sugar and soy sauce.

"No other technology offers a big a way to improve life for the world's poorest at such low costs or in so short a time," says Rolf Carriere, GAIN's executive director. "Our alliance can jump-start the process by helping countries initiate large-scale food fortification in just one year."

Research shows that foetal deaths, blindness, anaemia, mental retardation and many common infections that kill the young and the weak are prevalent in the developing world simply because individuals lack adequate vitamins and minerals in their diet.

GAIN was started with a US$50 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and is also funded by the Canadian, US and Dutch governments.

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