Food Borne Illness Data Dilemma

Herein lies the problem. In this country, where is the current food borne illness data?

I mentioned in one of my previous posts on how president Obama signed into law the Food Safety Modernization Act in the U.S which is aimed at minimizing food borne illness risks to the American consumer using a science and risk based approach.

Now let’s give it a thought that back home here in Nigeria the government seeks to do a similar deed. The first practical step will be to identify the extent of the present food borne illness challenge in the country and this can be done using the best available and current data on the distribution of food borne illness occurrence in the country to answer questions like:
1. Which pathogens in which foods cause the greatest impact on public health.
2. Which age group is most affected by foodborne illness.
3. How many persons were affected within a certain period.
4. Which region of the country is most affected.
Etc Etc.

Herein lies the problem. In this country, where is the current food borne illness data?

There is a dearth of accurate and up to date/current statistics on food borne illness in this country and I am speaking from experience.

When writing my MSc thesis on barriers to the uptake of HACCP Food Safety Management System in the hospitality industry in Nigeria, I found it a lot easier to obtain current data of food borne illness incidents in various hospitality settings in Europe, North America, the Far East and Middle East and even South Africa than to get one for my home country.

I tried to figure out where I could turn to get the information I needed. FMH? NAFDAC? NMA?

The little statistics available at the National Bureau of Statistics were somewhat too outdated to be valid for the comparison research work I needed to do (except for cholera, the food borne and water borne disease that occurs so frequently that one can collate its statistics from the newspapers). That was six years ago and little has changed between then and now.

It will be fairly accurate to say that when compared to other public health issues (infant mortality, road accident fatalities, HIV/AIDS, Polio… name it) “home-grown” current data on food borne illness isn’t easy to come by in this country. The W.H.O published some data on diarrheal deaths in Nigeria which needs to be updated, perhaps to be updated by data generated and published by our own government.

Traditionally, it is acknowledged globally that the true extent of food borne illness occurrence cannot be accurately determined basically due to the problem of under reporting. Nevertheless there should still be something available to work with. Countries that pay optimum attention to public health issues always have current statistics to work with. The place of availability of data in problem solving cannot be overemphasized.

An adequate and effective centralized national food borne illness surveillance system needs to developed in this country where State and Local Government ministries and departments of health will voluntarily report food borne illness incidents or outbreaks in their areas of jurisdiction. Obviously this depends also on the public’s willingness to report food borne illness but this can be addressed by creating awareness to change public cynicisms & stereotypes and also creating conducive atmosphere for self-reporting.

The starting point for reducing the public health burden of food borne illness in this country is the availability of current and up-to-date data.


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