By Our Reporter
NAIROBI- SHIFTMEDIA- The Covid 19 pandemic has left untold suffering to scores of households especially regarding the exploration of myths on food-borne illnesses in Africa.
As Africa planned to celebrate World Food Safety Day 2021, CGIAR’s International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) convened a virtual panel of experts to explore the surprising myths and complex realities of food-borne illness in Kenya and across Africa.
The experts noted that food-borne illness is a far bigger health problem than many people realize, and one that is on a par with each of the so-called big three diseases of Africa: HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Africans suffer far more from food-borne illnesses than people in any other region, which can involve everything from tainted fruits and vegetables to processed meats linked to the 2017 outbreak of listeriosis in South Africa and the 2017 deadly cholera outbreak in Kenya.
During the webinar meeting on Myths and Realities of Food Safety held recently in Kenya’s capital Nairobi, the experts discussed how the COVID-19 pandemic affects food safety, what are the risks of aflatoxins in Kenya, and what the Kenyan government needs to do to improve food safety, among others.
Food safety is a vital but often neglected topic: close to 600 million people fall ill and 420,000 people, mostly young children, die every year because of foodborne disease. Africa, in particular, carries a large burden from foodborne diseases, with a toll comparable to major infectious diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS.
Jimmy Smith, the Director-General International Livestock Research Institute ( ILRI) said their work as ILRI is dedicated to addressing poverty and increasing food security and nutrition as well as natural resources in the developing world.
“Food safety is always under looked matter in the developing world. Most people don’t realize that foodborne illnesses cause most deaths just like any of the big three, HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria” said Smith.
He said the young, old, malnourished, and the poor are disproportionally affected.
He said losses due to unsafe foods amounted to over $17b in 2019/2020 in Africa alone, yet treating the foodborne diseases amounts to just $3.5b.
Smith noted that much as COVID 19 is not attributed to the food that we eat, the origins of the pandemic were from an animal market in Wuhan, in China.
“We should work very hard to ensure these food markets are safe,” he said during the media webinar session.
He said the ILRI scientists are deeply involved in research on food safety issues in the developing world, including the role of wet markets now under intense scrutiny for their potential role in spreading zoonotic diseases, such as COVID19.
Johanna Lindahl, ILRI veterinary epidemiologist and expert in milk safety said it is interesting to note that most population, who are the consumers, are becoming more aware of food safety.
Other speakers included; Theo Knight-Jones, ILRI senior scientist and expert on food safety in Africa’s urban food markets, Silvia Alonso Alvarez, ILRI veterinarian and expert in animal-borne diseases and food safety in informal markets, Florence Mutua, ILRI scientist focused on food safety systems and the impact of COVID-19 on food safety in Africa.
Others were Erastus Kang’ethe, Emeritus Professor of Public Health and Food Safety, University of Nairobi and Food Safety Consultant, and Leonard Kimtai, Senior Public Health Officer, Division of Food Safety, Ministry of Health, Kenya