World Health Day reminds us that adulteration or contamination of food not only affects people's life irrespective of gender, age, or economic status but also poses a great threat to the growing children and even womb of a mother. Child health specialists have disclosed the fact that the number of disabled or autistic children of the country hits 1.5 million, which is an enormous concern for the nation. Contaminated food and water can damage brain, liver, kidney, nerve and cause deadly hepatitis A and E and typhoid, and eventually lead to liver failure, particularly in children and pregnant women. More than 7,000 children under five die of diarrhoea every year. Food safety, nutrition and food security are interlinked. Unsafe food creates a vicious cycle of diseases and malnutrition, particularly affecting infants, young children, elderly and the sick. Food-borne diseases impede socio-economic development by straining healthcare systems and harming national economy, tourism, and trade.
Food items in Bangladesh are contaminated in a number of ways. Different national dailies published the fact that dairy, poultry and fish feed are produced from the wastage of tannery factories which are contaminated with heavy metals like cadmium, chromium, lead and other harmful substances. Equally food grains, vegetables, fruits, fishes, meats, milk, bakery products, sweetmeats, ice creams, and soft drinks are adulterated. When consumed, these harmful metals are engrossed inside the body and they destroy vital organs - kidney, liver, brain, respiratory tract, and can cause cancer. Adulteration of food is like a silent killing process.
A news report in Dhaka reveals that Bangladesh Agriculture Research Institute (BARI) has detected harmful level of insecticides in vegetables, shrimps and dried fishes based on its collection of 454 sample tests from different haats of 12 districts of the country during the period from 2011 to 2014. BARI's research report titled "Insecticides in food: Bangladesh perspective" was presented in the Eight One Health Bangladesh conference held recently (30 March 2015) organised by IEDCR. The experts disclosed in the conference that any food, if cleaned well by fresh water, food risk could be minimised from 60 to 80 per cent. A research team under the leadership of BARI's Chief Scientific Officer Sultan Ahmed collected 362 sample from Jessore, Jamalpur, Bogra, Narsingdi, Gazipur and Comilla region for the period from 2011 to 2014 and detected harmful level of insecticides in 23 per cent of the collected samples. If the trend goes unchecked and appropriate steps are not taken to avert the situation right now, the people of the country will be vulnerable to serious health risk.
At this scenario, World Health Day is being observed on 7 April across Bangladesh like elsewhere in the world calling for "Safe and healthy food for All", a theme selected by the World Health Organisation for the day. World Health day is an opportunity to alert people working in different governing sectors, farmers, manufacturers, retailers, health practitioners as well as consumers about the importance of food safety and the part each can play in ensuring that everyone can feel confident that the food is safe to eat.
As food supply becomes increasingly globalised, the need to strengthen food safety systems in and between all countries is becoming more and more imperative. WHO has selected the above theme this year focusing on the need to promote efforts to improve food safety from farm, factories, street vendors, kitchen to plate. WHO alerts countries to food safety emergencies through an international information network. Five keys to safer food sorted out by the WHO are:
? keeping food clean
? separating raw food and cooked food
? cooking food thoroughly
? keeping food at safe temperature, and
? using safe water and raw materials
To quote Margaret Chan, Director General of the WHO, despite progress in reducing under-nutrition, our planet's population is still affected by many food-related challenges, including vitamin and mineral deficiencies, obesity, and non-communicable diseases. These challenges are fuelled, in part, by cheap, convenient, and highly processed foods that are appealing to the taste. But food threats do not stop there. One area to which the international community has given substantial, but less visible, attention is ensuring the safety from infection and contamination of the food we produce, trade and eat. The food must be nutritious and safe. Yet food safety is a hidden and often overlooked problem.
WHO key facts shows that: access to sufficient amounts of safe and nutritious food is a key to sustaining life and promoting good health. Unsafe food containing harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances causes more than 200 diseases ranging from diarrhoea to cancers. Food-borne and water-borne diarrhoeal diseases kill an estimated two million people annually including many children.
Bangladesh is a developing country thriving to achieve various socio economic targets for the welfare of the people. Keeping human resources vulnerable to food risk, all development activities will go in vain. Government is committed to ensure safe food for all and to that end in view, it passed new Safe Food Law-2013. There are as many as 15 laws to regulate safe food delivery to the consumers. Along with government efforts, different agencies, media --- both print and electronic --- NGOs, farmers, manufacturers, retailers, health practitioners, religious leaders as well as consumers can play their roles to ensure safe food. Working together the dream of safe food and healthy diet for all will be materialised.
MA Jabbar, Executive Secretary of ADHUNIK, national anti-tobacco organisation of Bangladesh, writes on health and environment issues