Caribbean Experts Convene to Enhance Food Safety, Health and Economic Security

15 May, 2019 06:41
Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago.  14th May, 2019.  Food safety is one of top three priorities of most Caribbean countries.  Foodborne diseases (FBDs) are of greater concern today because of the increasing number of large outbreaks reported.  Such outbreaks can have serious health, economic and reputational implications for the Caribbean’s tourism dependent economies and adversely affect the arrival of visitors to the Region.

Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), in collaboration with the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) from May 14th to 16th at the Trinidad Hilton and Conference Centre, hosted a Sub Regional Workshop on Integrated Food Borne Disease Surveillance and Outbreak Investigation in the Caribbean.    

“Food safety is a global priority and an important public health issues since FBDs are a major cause of death, illness and an economic burden.  Food safety is also a key regional health and economic  security issue ,” said Dr. Lisa Indar, Head of the Tourism and Health programme and Foodborne Diseases Lead at CARPHA.  She added “Studies show that diarrheal diseases are responsible for 95% of food borne disease illnesses in the Region.  It is therefore important that countries security develop strong farm to table food safety systems to manage food safety risks, protect public health by reducing the risk of FBDs; contribute to economic development and support safe and viable tourist industry.” 

Dr. C. James Hospedales, Executive Director at CARPHA, stated that food borne diseases and food safety continue to be a priority for the Caribbean Cooperation in Health (CCH) and for CARPHA, especially when it concerns outbreak investigations, surveillance, laboratory, and risk communications.  “I am happy to see the fruits of work that have been done.  The steps that have been taken are very promising for the success and immediate outputs of this activity and beyond, at the Member State level and all together a stronger Region in the face of health security threats that we have.”

Food-borne diseases can cause serious health complications which can lead to chronic health problems.  Every year, thousands of people in the Caribbean experience food-borne illnesses, after exposure to contaminated food or drink. Persons affected usually experience diarrhoea, vomiting, stomach pain, sometimes accompanied by fever headaches and other symptoms.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, Dr. Erica Wheeler, PAHO/WHO Representative, PAHO/WHO Trinidad and Tobago, stated “It is important that all possible measures are in place to prevent contamination of food products and that all food handlers are well trained in the proper standards of food hygiene.  Effective national food control systems are essential to protect the health and safety of domestic consumers.  They are also critical in enabling countries to assure the safety and quality of their foods entering international trade and to ensure that imported foods conform to national requirements.”  She added “PAHO/WHO stands ready to collaborate with CARPHA, FAO, CAHFSA, IICA and the Ministries of Health and Agriculture of the Caribbean to strengthen food safety and food borne disease surveillance systems in the Caribbean.  The workshop this week, is just a continuation to joint efforts and partnerships to promote food safety.” 

Dr. Wheeler informed participants that a new celebratory Day - World Food Safety Day - will be celebrated on the June 7th each year.  The aim is for the international community to speak with one voice to promote awareness and inspire actions for safer food. Participants were encouraged to organise events in their respective countries to celebrate the day.   

Norovirus is a highly contagious food borne disease and affects all age groups.  It is transmissible through person to person contact, from contaminated food, water, air and environmental surfaces. Given that this pathogen is currently the most common cause of FBD outbreaks, workshop participants will discuss the prevalence of Norovirus in the Caribbean, laboratory detection and typing, and prevention and control guidelines for Norovirus.    

Giving the feature address, Dr. Maryam Richards, Principal Medical Officer, Institutions, Ministry of Health, Trinidad and Tobago, told participants “The WHO estimates that over 1.8million deaths worldwide occur from diarrheal diseases of which 70% is food borne.  Acute gastroenteritis ranked second in Trinidad and Tobago, in a list of communicable diseases, and fifth in the morbidity profile for the country, affecting almost 10% of the population each year.   There is a loss in millions of dollars in treatment and this does not include the productivity and direct and indirect cost associated with the treatment of syndromic acute gastroenteritis.  She added “Food safety is imperative to our development in the Caribbean.  It is also aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals 2 and 3. In addition to the CCH and national mandates, food safety is essential to protect the health and wellbeing of our people and our visitors.”  She reminded participants of their role in the implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the finalised FBD action plans in their respective countries.   

Over the course of three days, more than 40 workshop participants from nine English and Dutch speaking Ministries of Health, and Agriculture in CARPHA Member States, will seek to finalise and operationalise their FBD action plans to strengthen national integrated surveillance for FBDs, and strengthen their capacity for integrated outbreak investigation  to improve food safety  and security in the Region.

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