ABUJA  – Dr Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organisation (WHO) Regional Director, Africa, yesterday said unsafe food is linked to the deaths of an estimated two million people annually.
This is contained in a statement issued by the global body to commemorate the World Health Day with the theme: “How safe is your food? From farm to plate, make food safe”.
The statement signed by Charity Warigon, Head, Media and Communications, WHO Nigeria, said: “WHO joins the rest of the international community to commemorate World Health Day’’.
According to the statement, food contaminated by harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances can lead to a wide range of health problems.
It noted also that food contamination was responsible for more than 200 diseases, including typhoid fever, diarrhoea and cancers, among others.
It said the African region also accounts for a large number of infants, young children, pregnant women, the elderly and those with an underlying illness, who were vulnerable to diseases from unsafe food.
According to the statement, in 2014, there were more than 100,000 cases of cholera in 22 countries resulting in more than 1,700 deaths.
“While between January and April 2015, cholera outbreaks in 13 countries have led to over 200 deaths out of more than 13,000 cases,’’ it said.
It further noted that a high percentage of incidents of food-borne disease were caused by foods improperly prepared or mishandled at home, in restaurants or markets.
“Food can become contaminated at any point of production and distribution, and food producers play a critical role in preventing this problem,” the statement said.
It therefore called for urgent action by all food handlers and consumers in adopting basic hygienic practices when buying, selling and preparing food to protect their health and the community.
“Everyone has a role to play in making food safe and I urge food handlers and consumers to be familiar with common food hazards,’’ the statement said.
Moeti noted the growing concern over the increase of resistant microorganisms in the food chain and urged for a good platform to bring stakeholders together to address antimicrobial resistance.
“In combating antimicrobial resistance, prudent use of antimicrobials in agriculture, aquaculture and animal husbandry is critical, as is the case in human medicine.
“Production of safe food facilitates access to wider markets and improves overseas earnings,’’ she said
She also call on African governments to prioritise food safety, align policies in agriculture, trade, health, education, social protection and also mobilise adequate financial resources to make food safe for all.
She suggested setting food guidelines in line with codex standards, operating regional alert mechanisms, early warning systems as well as building and maintaining adequate food systems and infrastructures to improve food safety.
Moeti pledged WHO’s commitment to collaborate with all relevant stakeholders and other partners to ensure safe food “from farm to plate” in Africa.