Testing milk in Kenya's informal market

Testing milk in Kenya’s informal market (photo credit: ILRI/Dave Elsworth).

Illness and death from diseases caused by contaminated food are a constant threat to public health and a significant impediment to socioeconomic development worldwide.

To help address the lack of data on the global extent of this problem, the World Health Organization established the Foodborne Disease Burden Epidemiology Reference Group (FERG) to generate the first ever estimates of the global burden of foodborne disease.

The group published its results in December 2015 in a series of scientific articles in PLOS Collections and a report titled WHO estimates of the global burden of foodborne diseases.

They include estimates of the burden of foodborne diseases caused by 31 bacteria, viruses, parasites, toxins and chemicals.

The results will be presented and discussed at a FERG symposium in Amsterdam, the Netherlands on 15-16 December 2015.

Countries will be able to use these estimates to inform national policy development aimed at improving food safety and public health throughout the food chain.

World Health Organization infographic on antibiotic resistance and what the agriculture sector can do (credit: WHO).

Infographic on antibiotic resistance and what steps the agriculture sector can take to tackle this global challenge (credit: World Health Organization).

The Lancet yesterday (18 Nov 2015) published a new series titled Antimicrobials: sustainable access and effectiveness in recognition of the World Health Organization’s inaugural World Antibiotic Awareness Week, 16 to 22 November 2015.

The theme of the global campaign, Antibiotics: Handle with Care, reflects the overarching message that antibiotics are a precious resource and should be preserved. They should be used to treat bacterial infections, only when prescribed by a certified health professional. Antibiotics should never be shared and the full course of treatment should be completed – not saved for the future.

The five papers in the Lancet Series cover access to effective antimicrobials as a global challenge, understanding the mechanisms and the drivers of antimicrobial resistance, maximizing access to achieve appropriate human antimicrobial use in low- and middle-income countries, exploring the evidence base for national and regional policy interventions to combat resistance, and international cooperation to improve access to and sustain effectiveness of antimicrobials.

Accompanying the papers are three comments that discuss achieving the balance between sustainable access and sustainable effectiveness of antibiotics, animal production and antimicrobial resistance in the clinic and national action for global gains in tackling the challenge of antimicrobial resistance.

Timothy Robinson, a scientist at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), is the lead author of the comment titled Animal production and antimicrobial resistance in the clinic. His co-authors are Heiman F.L. Wertheim, Manish Kakkar, Samuel Kariuki, Dengpan Bu and Lance B. Price.

Follow the Twitter conversations at #AntibioticResistance

Locally made beef stew sold in Bagnon market at Yopougon, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire

Locally made beef stew sold in Bagnon market at Yopougon, Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. Informal food trade is less amenable to regulation and may be an important cause of foodborne disease (photo credit: ILRI/Valentin Bognan Koné).

The World Health Organization last month (August 2015) published a book on trade and health that provides useful background information for health policymakers to formulate a national response to trade and health-related issues, especially within the context of liberalization of global trade.

Trade liberalization influences the entire food supply chain. Changes along the food supply chain in turn influence the environment in which consumers make choices about the food they eat. These choices affect the diets of consumers and, therefore, the prevalence of foodborne diseases, undernutrition, and obesity and diet-related noncommunicable diseases.

There are also indirect effects of trade liberalization on human nutrition and health. These include the effects on household incomes and the inadvertent entry of emerging human, animal and plant diseases.

However, assessing national-level nutrition and health impacts of trade and trade policy is a complex affair. Therefore, in a chapter on trade liberalization, food, nutrition and health, the authors discuss four basic steps that governments can adopt to assess the potential impact of trade liberalization on food-related health and nutrition. These are:

  • an assessment of the types of impacts trade liberalization could have on a selected sub-set of key nodes in the food supply chain
  • an assessment of the subsequent impact on food safety, food availability, food prices and food marketing
  • an assessment on the food-related health outcomes themselves, namely foodborne diseases, undernutrition, and obesity and diet-related non-communicable diseases
  • an assessment of the implications of trade agreements on the policy space required to address these health conditions

The chapter also puts forward a number of opportunities for using trade policy to improve nutrition and health.

The chapter Trade liberalization, food, nutrition and health was authored by Corinna Hawkes, Honorary Fellow at the City University London Centre for Food Policy and Senior Adviser at the Leverhulme Center for Integrative Research into Agriculture and Health; Delia Grace, Program Leader, Food Safety and Zoonoses, International Livestock Research Institute and Anne Marie Thow, Lecturer in health policy at the Menzies Centre for Health Policy, University of Sydney.

Access the book, Trade and Health: Towards building a National Strategy, edited by Richard Smith, Chantal Blouin, Zafar Mirza, Peter Beyer and Nick Drager.