The Association for Public Health Physicians (APHPN), in conjunction with Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccines division of Sanofi Nigeria, has stated that the world is bearing a heavy burden of unsafe food consumption resulting in over 200 food-borne illnesses and about two million deaths every year.
The observation was made in an interaction with journalists in Lagos, during a press conference jointly organised by APHPN Lagos State Chapter and Sanofi Pasteur in commemoration of the 2015 World Health Day.
Speaking on the theme of the World Health Day, “How Safe is Your Food? From Farm to Plate, Make Food Safe,” Dr Omotomilayo Odugbemi of AHPN, Lagos State, said while everyone was at risk of food borne illnesses, the most vulnerable were children, the elderly, pregnant women and people living with underlying illnesses/immunocompromised patients.
These people, she said, were more vulnerable because their bodies’ ability to fight harmful substances or micro-organism was still immature, ageing, waning, inadequate to cope or had stopped working.
The burden of food-borne illnesses, Odugbemi stated, was more on populations with poor and fragile health status and usually led to serious illness and death. She listed the common symptoms of food-borne diseases as stomach pains, vomiting and diarrohoea, adding that food contaminated with heavy metals can also cause long-term health problems, including cancer and disorders of the kidney and the nervous system.
While acknowledging that the food chain pipeline was now longer and complex, complicating food borne disease outbreak investigation and product recall, Dr Odugbemi emphasised that to improve food safety, the best available technologies had to be used.
She stated further that to enhance food safety, the approach must be multi-sectoral and multidisciplinary because everyone had a role to play.
According to her, “There needs to be collaboration and communication amongst different groups. The government and its agencies (public health, agriculture, education/research institutions and trade), professionals, – food industry, civil society, consumer groups etc.”
The APHPN official while also advocating for food safety education for the local communities, women’s groups, the consumer and the media, stated that an effective teamwork of all stakeholders and the use of the mass media would help ensure that people make informed and appropriate food choices and embrace acceptable behaviours.
She stated that people “should know common food hazards, how to handle food safety and if applicable read/use the information provided in food labelling.”
According to Dr Odugbemi, five keys to safer food for consumers are: Keep clean; separate raw and cooked food; cook thoroughly; keep food at safe temperatures; and use safe water and raw materials.
While also speaking at the occasion, Mrs Ovy Ohioze, head, business operations, Sanofi Pasteur, noted that the company decided to partner with APHPN to jointly celebrate the World Health Day 2015 because it was an opportunity to alert governments, manufacturers, retailers and the public to the importance of food safety – and the part each could play in ensuring that the food on peoples’ plates was safe to eat.
She said this year’s World Health Day, with the focus on food safety, provided an occasion to raise awareness and educate stakeholders to prevent food-borne diseases and thereby improve public health, adding that food-borne and waterborne diseases kill an estimated 2 million people annually, including many children,particularly in developing countries.
Unsafe food, she said, creates a vicious cycle of diarrhoea and malnutrition, threatening the nutritional status of the most vulnerable, adding that a large proportion of food-borne disease incidents were caused by foods improperly prepared, or mishandled at home, in food service establishments or markets.
Ohioze further noted that not all food handlers and consumers understood the roles they must play, such as adopting basic hygienic practices when buying selling and preparing food to protect their health and that of their wider community.
Sanofi Pasteur, she said, has a broad range of vaccines protecting against 20 infectious diseases, including food-borne and water-borne diseases such as typhoid and cholera, adding that the company’s typhoid and cholera vaccines were WHO prequalified and were in use in several countries around the world.