ETHIOPIA—The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) researchers have revealed that the economic repercussions of foodborne diseases in Ethiopia are substantial, with an estimated annual cost of US$723 million.

This figure, presented by Theo Knight-Jones, Principal Scientist and team leader of Herd Health at ILRI, only accounts for three major pathogens, indicating that the total economic burden is likely much higher.

Knight-Jones highlighted that addressing food safety is crucial not only for public health but also for the nation’s economic stability.

The studies examined the dairy, meat, and vegetable value chains, assessing the prevalence and impact of major foodborne pathogens. High levels of bacterial pathogen contamination were found in various food items, with twelve pathogens identified as significant public health concerns.

Key bacteria, such as Campylobacter and non-typhoidal Salmonella, were reported to cause widespread illness. In beef alone, an estimated 400,000 people fall ill, and 190 die annually due to contamination.

Dairy products result in approximately 500,000 cases of illness and 200 deaths each year, while chicken is linked to 1.8 million illnesses and 850 deaths. Vegetables are responsible for 300,000 cases of illness and 320 deaths annually from non-typhoidal Salmonella and enterotoxigenic E. coli.

The conference brought together experts, partners, and local stakeholders to discuss these findings and their implications.

A multi-stakeholder approach, involving regulators, producers, processors, traders, consumers, and researchers, was emphasized as crucial in addressing food safety issues. Knight-Jones noted that this collaborative effort was instrumental in identifying critical control points across food chains, which are essential for reducing the incidence of foodborne illnesses and deaths.

Research priorities and knowledge gaps

The research identified several critical knowledge gaps and research priorities for food safety in Ethiopia.

These include the need for increased investment from both the public and private sectors, the pivotal role of consumer demand and awareness in driving food quality improvements, and the importance of innovative tools and approaches to enhance food safety.

Conducted by six food safety research projects, the findings emphasized both the challenges and opportunities in enhancing food safety across the nation.

The projects, presented at a conference in Addis Ababa, encompassed a diverse range of topics focused on food safety and public health.

The Pull-Push project, which ran from 2018 to 2022 in urban informal markets in Burkina Faso and Ethiopia, aimed at incentivizing food safety by creating demand for safe food and strengthening the capacity of value chain actors.

The TARTARE project addressed the risk factors, transmission routes, and health outcomes of non-typhoidal Salmonella, shiga-toxin producing Escherichia coli, and Campylobacter species in raw beef and dairy products.

ENSURE focused on improving the safety and quality of dairy foods by building capacity for monitoring foodborne microbiological hazards. FOCAL estimated the burden of foodborne diseases in four African low- and middle-income countries and evaluated the cost-effectiveness of various interventions.

CAGED utilized genomic tools to understand the diversity, evolution, and transmission dynamics of Campylobacter strains in livestock and humans. Lastly, EXCAM measured child exposure to enteric infections in rural northwest Ethiopia and explored the associations between infection, environmental factors, and child growth.

Launch of One Health National Food Safety Technical Working Group

During the conference, the Ethiopian National Steering Committee for One Health launched the One Health National Food Safety Technical Working Group.

Supported by ILRI through the CGIAR initiatives on One Health and Resilient Cities, this specialized group aims to serve as a platform for exchanging information on food safety and discussing evidence-based decisions to improve food safety in Ethiopia.

The research was led by ILRI, Ohio State University, University of Florida, Addis Ababa University, and the Technical University of Denmark, with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the UK Government Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).

The collaborative and multi-stakeholder approach demonstrated by these projects and the conference underscores the critical importance of joint efforts in making food systems safer and more resilient, ultimately protecting public health and enhancing economic stability in Ethiopia.

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