Improving child health with zinc

  • Share

Health is a leading measure of development failure or success and health improvements bring significant economic benefits. Significant progress has been made in recent decades to increase life expectancy and reduce child and maternal mortality, malaria, tuberculosis, polio and the spread of HIV/AIDS. Mine workers may be exposed to increased occupational health risks such as cardiovascular and respiratory diseases (such as silicosis), as well as communicable diseases like tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. All ICMM members implement the 10 principles that underpin our Sustainable Development Framework. Principle 5 requires companies to continually improve health and safety performance with the ultimate goal of zero harm.

When the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) officially came into force in January 2016, the nations of the world committed to mobilise efforts to end poverty, fight inequalities and tackle climate change. Business has a significant part to play, alongside governments and civil society, in creating pathways for a greener, safer and sustainable future for us all. Metals and minerals are essential to almost all aspects of everyday life; they enable farming, healthcare, communications, construction, transport and energy and water supply. And they will arguably become more important as they help to deliver the infrastructure required for a low-carbon future. This is one of a series of case studies gathered from our members to highlight how companies are working to enhance their contribution to society and help industry to manage potential adverse impacts their activities may have on the realisation of some of the SDGs.

Teck’s Zinc & Health programme is a global citizenship initiative that works with international partners on multiple initiatives to raise awareness about and help solve zinc deficiency. Zinc deficiency is the result of a diet that is too low in zinc, such as plant-based diets common in developing countries. Children with zinc deficiency are particularly susceptible to diarrhoea, which is often fatal in the developing world. Zinc deficiency contributes to the death of nearly 450,000 children under five per year.

Teck’s commercial strengths in the field of zinc production align with the social need to address zinc deficiency. The Zinc & Health programme comprises five sub-component projects involving private, public and non-governmental partnerships.

Five components of Teck’s Zinc and Health programme

1. Zinc Alliance for Child Health (ZACH)

In 2011, Teck, the Micronutrient Initiative and the Government of Canada partnered to scale up zinc and oral rehydration salts as a diarrhoea treatment in countries with high under-five death rates in sub-Saharan Africa. To date, more than 22 million children have received life-saving zinc treatments.

In April 2013, Teck commenced a second partnership under ZACH with UNICEF Canada to scale up the use of zinc and oral rehydration salts to treat childhood diarrhoea in India. The partnership aims to save the lives of more than 150,000 children by 2018, with a target of 50,000 lives saved annually through strengthening health care systems in India.

2. Zinc Saves Kids

This is an initiative of the International Zinc Association (IZA), partnering with UNICEF in Nepal and Peru on a zinc supplementation program for children in collaboration with the respective national Ministries of Health. The initiative began in 2007 and Teck’s entry in 2011 assisted in scaling up treatment programs.

Since the program was formed, 600,000 children in Nepal and Peru under the age of three have received micronutrient powder containing zinc to improve nutrition and reduce the risk of stunted growth. More than 85,000 mothers and caregivers have been trained about the benefits of zinc through 4,200 mothers’ groups.

3. Food fortification

Adding zinc to staple foods such as flour, rice or milk is a highly cost-effective measure for reducing widespread zinc deficiency. In 2012, Teck partnered with chemical company BASF to jointly develop affordable zinc fortification products to improve nutrition in developing countries. Zinc from Teck’s Trail Operations was turned into high-grade zinc oxide, which BASF used to make food fortification supplements to increase zinc nutrient content in staple foods such as wheat and rice. To date, more than 100 million people at risk of zinc deficiency have had access to zinc-fortified staple foods as a result of the partnership.

Teck also supports a World Food Programme rice fortification pilot project in Odisha, India, where 65 percent of children suffer from zinc deficiency. For the duration of the project, more than 135,000 children will receive a fortified meal every day at school. The WFP project aims to improve the nutrition and performance of school-age children while also building capacity of local rice millers to increase the availability of fortified rice.

4. Crop nutrition

Zinc deficiency affects 61 percent of the world’s agricultural soils and has a significant impact on crop productivity. Adding zinc to fertilizer can increase crop output, food security and the nutritional quality of the crops. Since 2012, Teck has supported China’s Ministry of Agriculture (NATESC) and the International Zinc Association to carry out more than 120 field trials in China. The trials have resulted in increased crop yield and nutritional quality, in addition to increased income for low-income, rural farmers.

5. Awareness and advocacy

To promote zinc deficiency awareness, Teck uses numerous social media platforms as well as a variety of employee-driven initiatives and partnerships – most notably with the Canadian NGO Free The Children and their annual We Day youth empowerment event. To date, @ZincSavesLives, the Zinc & Health Twitter account, has close to 3,000 Twitter followers.

Outcomes

Zinc is integral to both Teck’s core business and health and nutrition. The combination of business and community investment interests through the Zinc & Health programme creates a natural longer-term association. Results including the following:

A combination of short- and long-term initiatives contribute to the programme’s overall sustainability, as does the strategic engagement of relevant partners for specific programme pillars. 

ICMM members supporting the SDGs