Estimating the burden of foodborne diseases

By Sudheer Kumar K|Updated : June 10th, 2021

The World Health Assembly (WHA) passed a new resolution directing WHO to monitor the global burden of foodborne and zoonotic diseases at the national, regional, and international levels. It requested WHO to report on the global burden of foodborne diseases by 2025, including estimates of the global foodborne disease burden and mortality.

The World Health Organization (WHO), in pursuant to the WHA resolution, has published a handbook to assess the burden of foodborne diseases and identify data gaps, which will aid in the strengthening of health infrastructure.

About Foodborne Diseases

Foodborne diseases are caused by food contamination and can occur at any point along the food production, distribution, and consumption chain. They can be caused by a variety of environmental contaminants, such as pollution in the water, soil, or air, as well as unsafe food storage and processing.

Foodborne diseases are ranging from diarrhoea to cancer. Most of the foodborne diseases are expressed as gastrointestinal problems, but they can also produce neurological, gynaecological, and immunological issues. Diarrhoeal diseases are a major problem in all countries, but the burden is borne disproportionately by low- and middle-income countries, as well as children under the age of five.


Burden of Foodborne Diseases

  • According to a 2015 WHO estimate600 million people are affected by foodborne diseases each year.  It infects 1 out of every 10 people worldwide.
  • Approximately 120,000 children under the age of five die as a result of consuming contaminated food. This accounts for 30% of all foodborne deaths each year.
  • Diarrhoeal diseases are responsible for half of the global burden of foodborne diseases. The disease causes sickness in 550 million people and kills 230,000 people each year.
  • Children are at a high risk of contracting foodborne diarrhoea. It is responsible for 220 million illnesses and 96,000 deaths per year.
  • Eating raw or undercooked meat, fresh produce, eggs, and dairy products contaminated with norovirus, Campylobacter, pathogenic E coli, and non-typhoidal Salmonella causes diarrhoea.
  • Regions that have highest burdened: According to the WHO, the African and South east Asian regions have the highest burden of foodborne diseases.

Way Forward

Foodborne diseases are preventable and WHO is playing a critical role to coordinate action by having a reliable data on the actual national foodborne diseases burden, which is essential to draw public attention and mobilize political will and resources to combat foodborne diseases.

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