Some months ago I tweeted a link to an article about the Saharawi people of the Western Sahara – an isolated and displaced people with a coeliac disease prevalence of around 6% – and it appeared to strike a chord with followers.
Their coeliac rate is the highest in the world for any people or nation. To the best of my knowledge, it’s over double that of the next highest – countries such as Mexico, Finland, Sweden – which are believed to be around 2-3%. We hear a lot about the Irish and the Italians having the highest rates of coeliac disease. They don’t. Theirs is around 1%. They just have good awareness, good gastroenterologists and medical care – and reliable access to an ever-growing selection of safely gluten-free foods, as many of us in Europe, North America and Oceania have.
The Saharawi have none of these things. It is possible that the humanitarian aid they have received from the West has in fact worsened their situation over the years in some respects – by introducing higher levels of gluten into their diet than they would normally consume.
The Italian coeliac charity AIC launched an initiative some years ago to offer support to the Saharwi communities via regular deliveries of GF flour and other support – but I don’t know whether it’s still in place.
Anyway, their story deserves a wider airing. The translation from Italian isn’t perfect, but you can read about it here. The piece dates from 2013, and I can find no further updates on their situation online. If you know of any more recent developments, please add a comment.