ETHIOPIA – A recent study focusing on foodborne diseases in Ethiopia has uncovered their profound impact on public health and the national economy, estimating an annual loss of at least USD 723 million.

The collaborative research, supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and UKAID, involved six projects dedicated to food safety and was conducted by institutions including the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), Ohio State University, University of Florida, Addis Ababa University, and Technical University of Denmark.

The study examined the prevalence and impact of three key foodborne pathogens in dairy products, meat, and vegetables.

The results revealed that these diseases account for nearly one percent of Ethiopia’s gross domestic product (GDP) through the loss of productivity and the incalculable toll of death, pain, and suffering.

Contaminated beef was identified as a significant culprit, causing approximately 190 deaths and sickness in 400,000 individuals annually due to campylobacter and non-typhoidal salmonella.

Dairy product contaminations were linked to 200 deaths and half a million illnesses. Chicken was found to impose an even greater burden, accounting for 1.8 million illness cases and 850 deaths each year.

Vegetables were also identified as a source of foodborne illnesses, causing 400,000 cases of illness and 330 deaths annually.

The study identified twelve foodborne germs and viruses as the most significant threats to public health, revealing critical knowledge gaps and a lack of research priorities in the area of food safety.

To address this urgent issue, the study recommends increased investment from both the public and private sectors, emphasizing the need to raise awareness among consumers and improve the quality of food.

Additionally, a One Health National Food Safety Technical Working Group has been established to serve as a platform for exchanging information on food safety in the country and discussing evidence-based decisions to improve food safety.

The economic cost of foodborne diseases, based on death, pain, and suffering, and loss of productivity through illness, is estimated at USD 723 million per year, equivalent to 1% of Ethiopia’s GDP.

The study underscores the need for comprehensive interventions, including safe production in agriculture value chains and consumer education on safe food handling practices at home.

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