A University of Toronto professor has won a prestigious grant for his plans to fortify tea with iron in a bid to help save the lives of mothers and newborns in developing countries.

To help implement his idea, Dr. Levente Diosady was awarded a $250,000 grant by an organization called "Saving Lives at Birth: A Grand Challenge for Development," which is backed by agencies in Canada, Norway, the U.S., and the U.K., as well as by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Diosady was the only Canadian among the 22 grant recipients.

"Iron deficiency affects about one third of the people in the world, mostly women in the developing world, and it comes about because of course lack of high quality food and lack of meat in the diet," Diosady told Canada AM.

Typically, iron deficiency causes anemia which produces lethargy, immunity problems and, in severe cases, loss of blood. Anemia can cause serious problems in development of small children.

According to the World Health Organization, nearly 700,000 childbirth-related deaths are caused every year by iron deficiency.

So Diosady developed plans to inject much-needed iron into everyday food, such as tea, a dietary staple in Southern Asia.

"Basically, the really poor people don't buy any food. They grow their food and they barter. The two things that they do buy are salt and tea in South Asia," Diosady said.

In 2008, Diosady was a part of a project that saw positive results from adding iron to salt.

"It was very practical, very good. We had a school program for school lunches for 3.5 million kids and we cured a million children in eight months just by changing salt in the school lunches," Diosady said.

Diosady, a professor of chemical engineering and applied chemistry at the U of T, says that technological challenges have in the past prevented his team from adding iron to tea. But he hopes to overcome that hurdle in the next five years.

Diosady plans to attach spray-encapsulated iron particles to tea leaves, which are coated to break down in the small intestine and efficiently deliver the missing nutrient.