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Strengthening foodborne diseases surveillance in the WHO African region: An essential need for disease control and food safety assurance

P Mensah
L Mwamakamba
S Kariuki
MC Fonkoua
A Aidara-Kane


Several devastating outbreaks of foodborne diseases have been reported in the African region including acute aflatoxicosis in Kenya in 2004 and bromide poisoning in Angola in 2007. There are concerns about transmission of multiple antibiotic resistant bacteria and pesticide residues in foods. The globalization of the food trade which could increase the spread of food contaminants internationally is an emerging issue.
The new International Health Regulations (IHR) (2005) cover events of international importance including contaminated food and outbreaks of foodborne disease. The IHR (2005) and other international as well as regional agreements require Member States to strengthen surveillance systems including surveillance for foodborne diseases. WHO has been supporting countries to strengthen foodborne disease surveillance since 2003. This paper reports on the work of WHO and partners in the
area of foodborne disease surveillance, the challenges and opportunities and provides perspectives for the area of its work. The paper shows that laboratory-based surveillance is the preferred system for foodborne disease surveillance since it allows early detection of outbreak strains and identification of risk factors with laboratory services as the cornerstone. Foodborne disease surveillance has been included in the revised Integrated Disease Surveillance and Response (IDSR) Strategy and there are guidelines for use by countries. WHO in collaboration with partners, especially the Global Food Infections Network (GFN), has been supporting countries to strengthen national analytical capacity for foodborne disease surveillance and research. Training for countries to detect, control and prevent foodborne and other enteric infections from farm to table has been conducted. The training for microbiologists and epidemiologists from public health, veterinary and food sectors involved in isolation,
identification and typing of Salmonella sp, Campylobacter sp., Vibrio cholerae, Vibrio sp. and Shigella from human and food samples have been carried out. Research into specific topics in microbiology and chemical contaminants has been conducted. Three institutions in Cameroun, Mali and Nigeria have been designated as centres of excellence for chemical contaminants. Despite these significant achievements, a number of challenges remain. Most food safety programmes and food safety systems remain fragmented resulting in duplication of efforts and inefficient use of resources; and most laboratories in the African Region are poorly resourced. In countries where facilities exist, there is underutilization and lack of synergy among laboratories. Countries should, therefore, conduct audits of existing laboratories to determine their strengths andĀ  weaknesses and strategize as appropriate. It is also imperative to continue to strengthen partnerships and forge new ones and increase resources for food safety, in general, and for foodborne diseaseĀ  surveillance, in particular, and continue capacity building, both human and institutional.

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eISSN: 1684-5374
print ISSN: 1684-5358