Who says that gadgets have to be flashy, or innovation high-tech? A Canadian researcher may have found a solution for nutritional deficiencies in rural Cambodia using something well and truly analogue – a simple piece of recycled iron in the shape of a fish.
The most common nutritional disorder in the world is iron deficiency, and huge amounts of people throughout the world are anaemic because of it: an estimated two billion people, 30 percent of the world’s population, according to statistics from the WHO. The condition manifests itself subtly, but there can be serious health consequences, including impaired physical and cognitive development, tiredness and malaise and a susceptibility to other diseases. Pregnant women are particularly at risk, with a lack of iron linked to premature births and haemorrhaging. In developing countries, every second woman is estimated to be anaemic. Putting it simply, it is the poorest and most vulnerable who are most affected by iron deficiency, those who have little or no access to a varied, nutritional diet rich in natural sources of iron.
So how can people who don’t have access to iron-rich foods increase their intake naturally and affordably? A young Canadian science graduate has come up with an ingeniously simple answer. While doing fieldwork in Cambodia for his masters degree, Christopher Charles came up with the idea for Lucky Iron Fish, a small ingot made of recycled iron. Add the fish to a cooking pot when making soup or stew, and the iron is slowly released into the food as it cooks. And voila, your extra iron-rich dinner is served. Take the fish out again before you serve up, clean it and re-use it next time. Made of recycled iron, and affordable for low-income families at just five dollars, the iron fish can be used effectively for up to five whole years. Recent trials in Cambodia showed fantastic results: anaemia rates being cut by nearly half among those who had been using the fish in their cooking for a year.
Interestingly, one of the biggest challenges the team faced was getting the people who needed the device to actually agree to use it. The fact that the idea worked and was beneficial to people’s health simply wasn’t enough to convince them. The first designs were unpopular with the target market – people were wary about popping a plain iron disc into their cooking pots, and a second design, in a lotus shape, didn’t convince them either. It was only when they came up with the idea of using the shape of a smiling fish – a symbol of luck in Cambodia, and one of the most common elements of Cambodian food – that their campaign started to find favour.
Wondering what you can do to help? It couldn’t be easier. Visit the company's official shop and purchase a lucky iron fish for yourself, and one will automatically be donated to a family in Cambodia.
For more information about how the project got started and to see the fish in action, check out the video below: