‘Make food safety a health priority’

Kathmandu, December 4

More than 150 million people fall sick and 175,000 die every year after consuming contaminated and unsafe food in the World Health Organisation South-East Asia Region including Nepal, said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia.

“Three in 10 children, under the age of five years, suffer from diarrhoea, which is a major childhood killer in the region.

These statistics from WHO’s first ever report on the estimated burden of foodborne diseases underscores the need to take immediate measures to make food safety a public health priority,” she said in a statement.

The region accounts for more than half of the global infections and deaths due to typhoid fever or hepatitis A. Foodborne diseases account for a significant proportion of the burden of disease in the region.

Diarrhoeal diseases are the leading cause of foodborne diseases in the region. Some 55 million children under the age of five fall ill and 32,000 die from diarrhoeal diseases in the South-East Asia Region every year.

“Food contaminated with harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites, toxins and chemicals are the main causes of foodborne diseases. Consumption of unsafe food causes nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea as an immediate effect, and has more serious long-term implications such as cancer, failure of kidney and liver and brain and neural disorders. Foodborne diseases are most dangerous to young children, pregnant women and older people.

In addition to the serious health impact, foodborne diseases present a major cost to economies,” Dr Khetrapal Singh highlighted.

The risk of foodborne diseases is the highest in low and middle income settings where hygiene, safe water for preparing food, and adequate food production and storage conditions remain a challenge. This is further compounded by insufficient food safety legislation or its enforcement.

According to her, the global report is a reminder that governments, the food industry as well as individuals need to make more collaborative efforts to make food safe and prevent foodborne illnesses.

“All food operators and consumers should understand the roles they must play to protect their health and that of the wider community. The food safety systems should ensure that food producers and suppliers, along the entire food chain, operate responsibly and supply safe food to consumers.

The governments must put in place policies and regulatory frameworks,” she said.