Public Health Nutrition

Special groups

Endemic goitre and excessive iodine in urine and drinking water among Saharawi refugee children

Sigrun Henjuma1 c1, Ingrid Barikmoa1, Anne Karine Gjerlauga1, Abderraháman Mohamed-Lehabiba2, Arne Oshauga1, Tor Arne Stranda3a4 and Liv Elin Torheima5

a1 Akershus University College, Box 423, N-2001 Lillestrøm, Norway

a2 Saharawi Ministry of Health Tindouf, Algeria

a3 Centre for International Health, University of Bergen, Bergen, Norway

a4 Medical Microbiology, Department of Laboratory Medicine, Sykehuset Innlandet, Lillehammer, Norway

a5 Fafo Institute for Applied International Studies, Oslo, Norway


Objective To assess the prevalence of enlarged thyroid volume (Tvol) in Saharawi refugee children, and their urinary iodine concentration (UIC), and to identify possible sources of excess iodine intake.

Design A cross-sectional survey was performed during January–February 2007. Tvol was measured by ultrasound and iodine concentration was analysed in casual urine samples, in household drinking water and in milk samples from household livestock.

Setting The study was undertaken in four refugee camps in the Algerian desert.

Subjects The subjects were 421 Saharawi children, 6–14 years old.

Results Enlarged Tvol was found in 56 % (Tvol-for-age) and 86 % (Tvol-for-body-surface-area) of the children. The median (25th percentile–75th percentile, P25–P75) UIC was 565 (357–887) μg/l. The median (P25–P75) iodine concentration in household drinking water was 108 (77–297) μg/l. None of the children had UIC below 100 μg/l, 16 % had UIC between 100 and 299 μg/l, and 84 % had UIC above 300 μg/l. There was a positive association between Tvol and whether the household possessed livestock.

Conclusions The children are suffering from endemic goitre and high UIC caused probably by an excessive intake of iodine. The excessive iodine intakes probably originate from drinking water and milk.

(Received May 12 2009)

(Accepted February 17 2010)

(Online publication April 01 2010)


c1 Corresponding author: Email