Food-borne illness popularly referred to as food poisoning, resulting from contaminated food, pathogenic bacteria, among others, is responsible for millions of deaths annually in the country. With the World Health Organisation (WHO) drawing attention to the public health problem arising from it, experts said with right measures ensuring food safety in place, the needless deaths could be averted, reports APPOLONIA ADEYEMI
As dangerous as food borne disease is to health, sending many to early grave, not many Nigerians are aware of the public health problem it poses to them. Based on lack of awareness of the huge burden it imposes, it has been shown that in developing countries including Nigeria, most foodborne disease outbreaks were underreported or underestimated.
In Nigeria, as at 2016, it was reported that only 90,000 cases of foodborne diseases occured annuallyy, but based on available data, the number of Nigerians that died from preventable food-borne diseases had reduced to 5,160 Nigerians yearly by 2017.
Speaking in Ilorin, Kwara State, during an awareness programme on food safety, the immediate past Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole said that the importance of food safety as a public health and economic in the world today couldn’t be over-emphasised.
Adewole who was represented by the Director, Food and Drug Services Department at the Federal Ministry of Health (FMOH), Mrs. Anthonia Opara said, “Recently, the nation had been plagued with preventable food-borne diseases such as cholera, typhoid, Lassa fever, chemical contamination, resulting in up to 5,160 deaths yearly.
“These have been linked to chronic diseases such as systemic failure and cancer. These diseases are generally the consequence of poor food safety culture and poor hygiene practices in the country.”
He however stated that the FMOH had always placed great emphasis on food safety to ensure that the health of citizens was not jeopardised.
Food-borne illness (also foodborne disease and colloquially referred to as food poisoning), is any illness resulting from the spoilage of contaminated food, pathogenic bacteria, viruses, or parasites that contaminate food, as well as toxins such as poisonous mushrooms and various species of beans that have not been boiled for at least 10 minutes.
The incubation period ranges from hours to days, depending on the cause and on quantity of consumption and symptoms often include vomiting, fever, and aches, and may include diarrhoea.
Similarly, bouts of vomiting can be repeated with an extended delay in between, because even if infected food was eliminated from the stomach in the first bout, microbes, like bacteria, (if applicable) can pass through the stomach into the intestine and begin to multiply. Some types of microbes stay in the intestine, some produce a toxin that is absorbed into the bloodstream, and some can directly invade deeper body tissues.
To further draw attention to the problem of the food borne disease, the first World Food Safety Day was marked in Congo Brazaville last week, geared to draw attention of the world community to dangerous foodborne diseases being recorded in Africa.
Food safety has become such a troublesome condition, that the United Nations (UN) instigated the first World Food Safety Day this 7 June, with the theme “Food Safety, Everyone’s Business”, to raise global attention to the dangers and the solutions that individuals, producers and governments must make a way of life to protect the quality of food we consume.”
World Food Safety Day highlighted the need for better prevention, detection and management of foodborne risks.
According to the Regional Director for Africa at the World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, “Foodborne diseases are completely preventable.” All players along the food chain, she stresses, “have a role in making food safe, beginning with producers and processors and moving to distributors, food safety regulators, retailers and eventually servers and consumers.”
Contaminated food not only affects human health, it tainted food security, economic prosperity, agriculture vitality, market access, tourism and sustainable development, the world body noted. Although everyone is susceptible, infants, young children, pregnant women, older persons and individuals with a weakened immune system (such as HIV infection, liver disease or who are on cancer treatment) were particularly vulnerable, the WHO stated.
In the past few years, the world body has been increasing its support to countries in Africa to strengthen the laboratory-based foodborne disease surveillance and build national capacity to prevent, detect and respond to food safety emergencies.
This has included, in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the UN, the strengthening of national networks and participation in the International Food Safety Authorities Network.
WHO also works with countries to target food safety health promotion initiatives to promote food hygiene in different settings, such as schools and food markets, and for infant and young child feeding practices.
According to statistics arising from the Brazzavile meeting, an estimated 91 million people in Africa in a year consumed contaminated food that rendered them ill, and around 137,000 people die.
Food containing harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances cause diseases ranging from acute diarrhoea to lifelong conditions, including some cancers.
Participants at the conference, noted that the risk of foodborne diseases was most severe in low- and- middle income countries, linked to preparing food with unsafe water; poor hygiene and inadequate conditions in food production and storage; lower levels of literacy and education; and insufficient food safety legislation or implementation of such legislation.
It is estimated that in 2015, 159 million people still collected drinking water directly from surface water sources, 58 per cent of whom were in sub-Saharan Africa.
In addition to the expense for health care, foodborne diseases impose considerable other costs to individuals, communities and countries due to the lost income from illness-related loss of work. Beyond the US$15 billion in medical expenses that households in low- and middle-income economies spend each year because of unsafe food, a recent World Bank study also found that those economies lose US$95.2 billion in economic productivity.
Most of this health burden and economic loss could be avoided with proper management of food and food products and appropriate hygiene by producers and consumers.
In their study, ‘The Food Industry in Nigeria: Development and Quality Assurance,’ Omotayo, R.K. and S.A. Denloye in 2002, summated that food safety issues arise from several factors such as poverty, street foods, improper agricultural practices, artisanal activities, poor hygiene at all stages of the food chain, lack of preventive controls in food processing operations, misuse of chemicals and additives, additives used above permitted levels, inappropriate storage and handling, microbiological contaminants, biological toxins, pesticide and veterinary residues, counterfeiting, and adulteration, amongst other factors.
Writing on “Mycotoxin Problem in Africa Current Status, Implications to Food Safety and Health and Possible Management,” Wagacha, J.M. and Muthomi, J.W,” in 2008, affirmed that bacterial food-borne diseases caused by species of Salmonella, Clostridium, Campylobacter and Escherichia were recognised major public health concerns contributing to the morbidity and mortality rates.
According to the duo, the lack of or inadequate application of Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and the abuse or misuse of agrochemicals by farmers during storage in Nigeria have had serious health effects on its population that still call for intervention.
In addressing food safety in Nigeria, Wagacha and Muthomi urged the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) to strengthen the existing framework and mandate, enact and implement food safety legislation that are based on scientific information provided by the National Food Risk Analysis Centre (NFRAC) Unit (domiciled in NAFDAC).
They said, “NFRAC must find the best possible ways to leveraging resources to help local food systems with food safety: for instance, via the elaboration of national and international food standards, collation of national food safety data, collaboration with research institutes and academia with respect to food safety data generation and collation.”
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