Public health and food safety in the WHO African region
AbstractContaminated food continues to cause numerous devastating outbreaks in the African Region. In Africa, a large proportion of ready-to-eat foods are sold by the informal sector, especially as street foods. The hygienic aspects of vending operations and the safety of these foods are problematic for food safety regulators. The global food crisis has worsened an already precarious food situation because when food is in short supply people are more concerned about satisfying hunger than the safety of the food. The aetiological agents include various pathogenic bacteria, parasites and viruses. Chemical contaminants are becoming increasingly important. Human factors including: unhygienic practices and deliberate contamination, environmental factors, such as unsafe water, unsafe waste disposal and exposure of food to insects and dust,undercooked food, and prolonged storage of cooked food without refrigeration are the main predisposing factors. WHO’s position is that food safety must be recognised as a public health function and access to safe food as a basic human right. The work of WHO in food safety is in line with its core functions and various global and regional commitments, especially the document entitled “Food Safety and Health: A Strategy for the WHO African Region (AFR/RC57/4) adopted in 2007. WHO has been supporting countries to strengthen food safety systems and partnerships and advocacy; to develop evidence-based food safety policies; strengthen laboratory capacity for foodborne disease surveillance; enhance participation of countries in the standard-setting activities of the Codex Alimentarius Commission; and strengthen food safety education using the WHO Five Keys to Safer Food . The implementation of the Regional Food Safety Strategy adopts a holistic farm-to-fork approach which addresses the entire food control system. Much has been achieved since the adoption of the document Food Safety and health: A Strategy for the WHO African Region, but commitment to food safety still remains low due to competing priorities. In particular, countries are now shifting away from fragmented food control implementation towards multi-agency and coordinated as well as single agency systems. The Codex Trust Fund has facilitated participation and capacity building for Codex work. Although funding for the Food Safety Programme has increased as compared to the levels in 2002, this remains inadequate. WHO will continue to support countries to strengthen food safety systems in line with its core functions and as enshrined in the regional food safety strategy.
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