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The Good-Luck Charm That Solved a Public-Health Problem

Design-thinking, Development, Health

In 2008, Christopher Charles was living in Cambodia and researching anemia. The condition, which is commonly caused by iron deficiency, afflicts roughly half of Cambodia’s children and pregnant women. Untreated, it can lead to lethargy, impaired growth and cognitive development in children, and increased risks of premature delivery and maternal mortality.

Charles, a Canadian epidemiologist, knew that iron-rich foods and supplements were too expensive for most rural Cambodians. Even cast-iron pots, which safely transmit iron to food as it cooks, were out of reach. But he wondered whether a small piece of iron placed in a standard aluminum pot would have a similar iron-releasing effect. To test his hypothesis, Charles distributed blocks of iron to local women, telling them to place the blocks in their cooking pots before making soup or boiling drinking water. The women promptly put them to use as doorstops.

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