NAIROBI, June 3 (Xinhua) -- African countries should come up with innovative strategies to enhance response to the rising burden of food-borne diseases, scientists said Thursday at a virtual briefing in Nairobi ahead of World Food Safety Day to be observed on June 7.
Jimmy Smith, director-general of Nairobi-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), said that combating food-borne ailments is urgent in order to strengthen the resilience of Africa's public health systems.
"Food safety is often an overlooked matter in the developing world. In Africa, food-borne diseases cause an estimated over 135 million cases of disease each year and 180,000 deaths each year," said Smith.
Africa has overtaken Asia to record a higher toll of deaths from food-borne diseases, said Smith, noting they were behind productivity losses of an estimated 1.83 trillion shillings (about 17 billion U.S. dollars) in the continent in 2019.
Smith urged improved regulations to boost food safety in Africa and avert a public health crisis that has escalated against the COVID-19 pandemic.
Policymakers and scientists attended the virtual briefing convened by ILRI to discuss the food-borne disease crisis in Africa and innovative policy tools that can be adopted to combat them effectively.
According to Smith, diseases linked to food contamination have created a public health crisis in Africa equivalent to HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. And the food-borne ailments have taken a heavier toll on vulnerable demographics in the continent including the elderly and children.
Theo Knight Jones, an ILRI scientist and food safety expert, said that poor handling and storage capacity has escalated contamination of food sold in Africa's open-air markets.
He said that investments in modern storage infrastructure, research and public awareness are the key to boosting food safety in Africa and curbing the spread of disease-causing pathogens.
Leonard Kimtai, a senior officer with the Division of Food Safety at Kenya's Ministry of Health, said that promoting food safety across key value chains is the key to improving the health of consumers, reducing hunger and disease in Africa. Enditem