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‘We can’t modernize, regulate or train our way to food safety in Africa’—ILRI epidemiologist Silvia Alonso

Written by Silvia Alonso

Veterinary epidemiologist Silvia Alonso works at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), where she contributes to the food safety flagship of the CGIAR Research Program for Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH), which is led by ILRI’s sister organization the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)

Alonso had some eye-popping things to say about food safety in Africa at the ‘First FAO/WHO/AU International Food Safety’ conference, held in Addis Ababa, 12–13 Feb 2019.

But first, for context, see below what The Economist Espresso had to say about this week’s food safety conference in the Ethiopian capital, where a Global Food Safety Partnership report was launched, to which ILRI scientists made many contributions (Hungry for change: Food safety (12 Feb 2019).

‘With an estimated 600m cases each year, food-borne diseases are an under-appreciated public-health problem. Africa, which suffers 137,000 deaths and 91m cases annually, shoulders the highest burden per person. Today organisations including the World Health Organisation and the African Union hold the first International Food Safety Conference in Addis Ababa to help address problems with the handling, cooking and storing of food.

‘A report released last week by the Global Food Safety Partnership (a platform facilitated by the World Bank) looked at 500 projects in sub-Saharan Africa since 2010. It found that investment has largely focused on export markets, leaving domestic consumers vulnerable. Long-term support has been lacking: initiatives to improve food safety result in fewer illnesses, but only until funding dries up.

‘Many Africans still rely on local markets that are often unregulated and lack adequate sanitation. Increased urbanisation will change this, but will also introduce new food-safety risks.’

And below is what Silvia Alonso reported on at the Addis food safety conference.

Foodborne disease and other food safety issues are among the greatest development challenges we face globally

. . . [T]he global health burden of foodborne disease on par with HIV/AIDS, TB, or malaria.

. . . [I]n 2016, the World Bank estimated its financial burden from lost human capital, treating disease and trade loss in the tens of billions of US dollars.

. . . 98 percent of health impacts, according to WHO, are shouldered by developing countries, and Africa carries the largest load.

. . . Consuming a more diverse diet is a key way to combat the multiple burdens of malnutrition, including stunting and undernutrition, but the most nutrient-rich foods, like dairy, meat, and vegetables, are also among the riskiest from a food safety perspective.

. . . [I]n 2016, Nigeria, South Africa, and Angola each had foodborne disease costs exceeding $US1 billion.

Alonso concludes that to get at the heart of food safety issues in Africa, local- to international-level partners from government, the private sector, research organizations and beyond must come together to support:

  • Elevating African food safety on the international health agenda
  • Addressing the health and development impacts of foodborne illness
  • Applying Codex Alimentarius principles and risk-based prevention to food safety work
  • Harnessing today’s market drivers of progress on food safety in Africa

The food safety challenges we face in the African continent and globally are daunting, to be sure, but if partners at all levels are willing to work towards this common goal, together, we can save lives and build stronger futures in Africa and beyond.
—Silvia Alonso

This post is based on Silvia Alonso’s presentation at the ‘African Union Special Event on Trade of Safe Food in Free Trade Areas’, at the First FAO/WHO/AU International Food Safety conference, held in Addis Ababa, 12–13 Feb 2019. View her whole slide presentation: Food Safety in Africa, 11 Feb 2019.

Read the whole original article by ILRI veterinary epidemiologist Silvia Alonso on the website of the CGIAR Research Program for Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH), which is led by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI): The critical and complex need to address food safety in Africa, 13 February 2019.

Read a news clipping about this: More public heath investment key to addressing food-borne diseases in Africa, ILRI Clippings blog, 13 Feb 2019.

Read the conference’s invited paper written by ILRI’s by Delia Grace, Silvia Alonso and Kristina Roesel and by IFPRI’s Namukola Covic and John McDermott. Food safety in Africa and strategic directions for improving policy and regulatory frameworks. 2019. Invited presentation at an African Union special event on ‘Trade of safe food in free trade areas’ at the first FAO/WHO/AU International Food Safety Conference, Addis Ababa, 12–13 Feb 2019.

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