World Health Day 2015
7 April, 2015
Today marks the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) World Health Day. This year’s theme is ‘How safe is your food?’ with the WHO calling on “producers, policy-makers and the public to promote food safety”.
The WHO estimates that two million people die every year from diarrhoeal diseases caused by contaminated food or drinking water. Over 200 diseases are caused the ingestion of food containing harmful bacteria, parasites, viruses, chemical substances. These include cholera, listeria, campylobacter, and salmonella. Additionally, wider health risks are connected to unsafe food and drinking water. The current devastation of West Africa by Ebola has been linked to the consumption of contaminated bush meat.
Perhaps one of the greatest ongoing challenges to global health and wellbeing is antimicrobial resistance (AMR). According to the initial report produced in December 2014 by the Review on AMR, up to 10 million people per year could die by 2050 due to antimicrobial resistance, compared to an estimated 700,000 deaths per annum currently. Although vital for treating bacterial infections in humans and animals, the irresponsible and over use of antibiotics is creating drug resistant strains of micro-organisms. Resistant bacteria are arriving in the human food chain through livestock, for example resistant strains of Salmonella through poultry. In March, we held a meeting of high level participants from human and animal health, agricultural, and government sectors to identify strategies to combat and emerging good practice towards AMR in lower and middle income countries.
The problem of food safety is tightly coupled with other important aspects of the sustainable development agenda. Food insecurity is an important example of this, as it drives people to unsafe and potentially harmful foodstuffs and jeopardises whole food chains. We have convened a number of events aimed at promoting food security, including a series on Global agriculture, food and land use: the international policy challenges. The final event in the series, Empowering people and shaping policies for resilient agriculture and food systems, aimed to identify appropriate policies at national and international levels and the potential barriers to and enablers of change to deliver a more resilient global food system.
In addition to discussing health problems linked to unsafe food, we have recently covered a number important global health and wellbeing topics. Earlier this year, we convened an event to look at the implications for screening and treatment of HIV co-infections with viral hepatitis in South East Asia. The discussions at the meeting focused on major scientific advances in screening and therapeutics, as well as approaches to overcoming barriers to access. Participants shared scientific and policy expertise debated critical issues and identified practical ways to rapidly expand access to screening and treatment in heavily impacted communities across Asia.