NPR: A Fatal Public Health Problem In Africa That Flies Under The Radar

Western donors are overlooking the safety of African food markets

An unrefrigerated meat market in Cameroon (Photo by Siobhán O’Grady)

An unrefrigerated meat market in Cameroon (Photo by Siobhán O’Grady)

This story first appeared in NPR.

In September, public health officials in South Africa finally declared victory over the world's worst-ever outbreak of listeriosis, a foodborne illness that had sickened more than 1,000 people and killed more than 200 there since January 2017.

The cause? A batch of "polony," a popular processed lunch meat similar to bologna, contaminated with listeria, a bacteria found in animal feces. Government health inspectors traced the outbreak to a factory owned by the South African packaged foods producer Tiger Brands, and ordered the recall of nearly 6,000 tons of affected food.

Even with that particular crisis under control, Africa as a continent continues to suffer from the world's highest per-capita rate of foodborne illnesses. A new report this month from the World Bank's Global Food Safety Partnership points to one reason why: Much of the funding for food safety efforts on the continent come from Western donors — and most of those efforts concentrate on safety standards for foods exported to other countries.

"Trade is important for a lot of [African] economies," says Lystra Antoine, an agricultural economist who is one of the report's authors. But, she says, "that has an unintended consequence."

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