A4NH / Agri-Health / Epidemiology / Food Safety / FSZ / Human Health / ILRI / Report

First global assessment of food-borne diseases is published by the World Health Organisation


Egyptian mourner, (possibly Isis mourning Osiris), circa eighteenth dynasty, via Musée du Louvre.

This note is written by Delia Grace, leader of ILRI’s program on Food Safety and Zoonoses and of the Agriculture-Associated Diseases flagship of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health.

After nine years, the Foodborne Disease Burden Epidemiology Reference Group (FERG) of the World Health Organisation (WHO) has produced the first global assessment of food-borne disease.

Eric Fèvre, a member of the FERG who contributed to this report, is a joint appointee at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the Institute of Infection and Global Health (IGH) at the University of Liverpool.

As anticipated, the burden of foodborne disease is high—comparable to that of the major infectious diseases, HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.

The report covered 31 foodborne disease hazards that together cause 600 million illnesses, 420,000 deaths and 22 million disability adjusted life years (DALYs).

The highest burden of foodborne disease is in Africa followed by Southeast Asia.

In terms of known burden, 61% is due to worms, 35% to microbes and 4% to chemicals and toxins.

The burden of aflatoxin was high in West Africa, the western Pacific and Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

[T]he burden of foodborne disease is borne particularly by children under five years old–although they represent only 9% of the global population–and people living in low-income regions of the world.

These estimates are conservative, i.e., underestimates rather than overestimates; further studies are needed to address the data gaps and limitations of the study.

Nevertheless, all stakeholders can contribute to improvements in food safety throughout the food chain by incorporating these estimates into policy development at national and international levels.

Although incomplete, and doubtless to be improved in coming years, this first assessment should provide a good justification for increased investment in foodborne diseases–especially those that cause the most burden and are most amenable to solutions.

Read the report in PLOS: World Health Organization global estimates and regional comparisons of the burden of foodborne disease in 2010,  by AH Havelaar, MD Kirk, PR Torgerson, HJ Gibb, T Hald, RJ Lake, et al., 3 Dec 2015, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1001923

About Eric Fèvre
ILRI scientist Eric Fèvre manages several field-orientated projects where he leads research on neglected zoonoses on behalf of ILRI’s inputs to the Agriculture-associated Diseases flagship of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH); that flagship is led by ILRI scientist Delia Grace. Fèvre leads a 25-strong team of epidemiologists, biologists, veterinarians and medical practitioners interested in the biology and control of (re-)emerging diseases, particularly zoonoses, with a focus on understanding the factors involved in emergence, risk, transmission, persistence, spread, and disease burden of pathogens in both human and animal populations.

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