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How many cases of foodborne disease are there in your country?


A side event about the impact of unsafe food

The reasons that question is difficult to answer are many, a side event on the third day of the 41st Codex Alimentarius Commission heard. To start with, how many people consult a doctor after getting diarrhoea from something they ate? The true magnitude and cost of foodborne diseases are often unknown due to cases not being reported, investigated or recognized.

While the exact figures cannot be known, panellists explained that foodborne illnesses affect all individuals in all societies, ranging in severity from diarrhoeal diseases to various forms of cancer, and sometimes even cause death.

Having more precise figures on the impact of unsafe food can allow policy-makers to allocate appropriate resources for food safety control, prevention and intervention. Thus, the World Health Organization (WHO) plans to publish in early 2019 a national guidance manual together with other tools to help countries to build their capacities, Dr Kazuaki Miyagishima, Director of the WHO Food Safety and Zoonoses Department, told Codex Members and Observers.

CAC41 side event WHO

Side event panel - the burden of foodborne diseases

According to WHO, 33 million years of healthy lives are lost worldwide every year due to foodborne disease caused by 31 hazards (bacteria, viruses, parasites, toxins and chemicals). “This is an estimation because of the fact that we could not possibly calculate all the foodborne hazards,” Dr Miyagishima told Codex Members and Observers, citing a figure in the Organization’s most comprehensive report on the subject to date.

“Building national capacity to enable the measurement of the burden of foodborne diseases can be seen as a first step towards assessing the effectiveness of a national food safety system, thereby giving appropriate attention to this often underestimated problem,” he said.

Dr Joke W. B. van der Giessen of the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment of The Netherlands, whose institution was involved in the development of WHO estimates of the global burden of foodborne diseases, extended the opportunity to Codex Members to request a dedicated capacity development workshop. “The week-long workshop will familiarize you with [a method for] making the calculations but efforts will need to be continued,” she said, referring to the disability-adjusted life years (DALY) method of quantifying the burden of foodborne disease.

Albania, represented by Dr Lindita Molla of the Institute of Public Health, Health and Environment Department, showed that a country can build its capacity in formulating the national burden estimate by taking a stepwise approach. Conducting the study itself can already strengthen the collaboration among stakeholders involved in food safety, laboratory capacities, and the food safety system, she explained.

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