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Six-million-dollar investment to tackle the causes of foodborne disease in Ethiopia


Principal food safety investigators conducted a press conference to launch four food safety programs in Ethiopia, 14–15 Feb 2019, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. (Left to right): Frank Arestrup, of the Technical University of Denmark; Kristina Rösel, of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI); Ashagri Zewdu, of Addis Ababa University; and Barbara Kowalcyk, of Ohio State University (photo credit: ILRI/Apollo Habtamu).

The UK Government’s Department for International Development (DFID) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) are supporting four new research projects to address a broad set of robust and large-scale research priorities to guide program and policy efforts to improve food safety in Ethiopia. This will be achieved through a consortium of national and international research partners working together to support the country’s ongoing efforts.

This investment comes at a critical time, as the World Health Organization (WHO) reports the global burden of food safety to be of similar magnitude as malaria or HIV/AIDS.

Worldwide, more than 600 million people fall ill each year from food they eat, and the death rate is highest in Africa. Foodborne disease agents can contribute to stunting and a number cause serious illness or death.

A recent World Bank study estimates the losses in human productivity are more than USD100 billion for all low- and middle-income countries.

Despite the overall and evident importance of foodborne disease in low- and middle-income countries, few have prioritized food-safety policy. An important reason is that prevention and control of foodborne disease is very complex and thus complicated. Most of these infections are transmitted not only through a variety of foods (e.g., livestock-derived foods as well as fruit and vegetables), but also through the environment or by direct animal or human contact. Targeted prevention and intervention, therefore, requires evidence on the public-health impact of specific foodborne diseases, and their most important causes, sources and transmission routes.

The urgency of addressing food safety cannot be overstated as undernutrition remains one of the greatest challenges to human and economic development.

In low- and middle-income countries, child stunting is common, with lifelong consequences on physical and intellectual development, and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding and have infants to feed struggle to meet the basic energy and nutrient requirements of themselves and their children, increasing their vulnerability to illness. The consumption of only small amounts of meat, milk, eggs or fish by infants up to two years of age and by expectant and new mothers in a well-balanced diet with vitamin-rich fruit and vegetables could help the future generation help to achieve its full potential.

If the safety of these foods cannot be ensured, it may only aggravate the problem of undernutrition.

All projects seek to generate more evidence on the actual health and economic burden of foodborne diseases in Ethiopia and on critical points in food supply chains where interventions could be most feasible and cost-effective for public health in the Ethiopian context. Commodities studied will be dairy, beef, chicken, and vegetables. Interventions will be identified in collaboration with local health practitioners and food supply chain actors, including the consumers themselves. In the process, national and international researchers will work closely with local and national decision-makers to translate this evidence into practice.

The four principal investigators include Addis Ababa University, International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), Ohio State University and Technical University of Denmark. Other partners include the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH), the Global One Health initiative in Ethiopia, the University of Gondar, Haramaya University and Holeta Agricultural Research Center.

All four projects were jointly launched at the Hilton Hotel in Addis Ababa yesterday (14 Feb 2019).

For further information, please contact:
Getnet Yimer, MD, PhD
Eastern Africa Regional Director, Global One Health initiative
Office of International Affairs, Ohio State University
Phone: +251-911-405387 Email: ali.578@osu.edu

For more information on the individual projects, visit the website of the Agriculture, Nutrition and Health Academy.

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