On 14 February, four major projects with $6 million in backing were launched in Addis Ababa. The goal: tackling foodborne illness in Ethiopia. The Gates Foundation, along with the UK Government’s Department for International Development (DFID) are providing the funding for this major undertaking. ILRI will serve as one of four principal investigators in the research program. They are joined by Addis Ababa University, Ohio State University and Technical University of Denmark.
The Food Safety Epidemic
The World Health Organization (WHO) reported in 2015 that food safety issues are a global burden on par with malaria or HIV/AIDS. While more than 600 million people worldwide become ill from foodborne disease each year. Death rates are highest in Africa and South-East Asia. Sadly, children under 5 years of age are at the highest risk, comprising nearly 30% of all foodborne fatalities.
Along with mortality concerns, food safety issues also aggravate the vast problem of undernutrition. This is particularly true in low- and middle-income countries. Child stunting is common in these regions, leading to lifelong issues of both physical and intellectual underdevelopment. Those problems lead to a loss in human productivity that a recent World Bank study estimated to be worth $100 billion.
Time to Prioritize
Despite this huge cost and the overall evidence of foodborne disease, few countries have made food safety policy a top priority. Some of this is because much of the funding that comes from Western sources puts emphasis on the safety of food being exported from Africa, as opposed to food being consumed within the continent (read more here). Another issue is the complexity involved in proving where the transmission of disease is coming from, as both environmental and human factors are involved. The research in Ethiopia that the Gates Foundation and ILRI are undertaking is therefore critically important.
The projects seek to generate more evidence as to the critical points in food supply chains where public health intervention would be most practical and cost-effective. National and international researchers will work closely with local and national decision-makers to make best use of this evidence.
You can read more about ILRI’s important research at https://www.ilri.org/. And learn more about The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the many global projects they fund at https://www.gatesfoundation.org/.