Foodborne disease meeting in Malaysia

Foodborne disease meeting in Malaysia
Future Action on Food Safety in the Pacific:
WHO/FAO/SPC meeting held 28–31 May 2004 in Seremban, Malaysia

Food safety is increasingly recognised as an important trade and health issue globally. It is a trade issue because of the potential economic consequences, for food exports and industry, of a lack of or breach of food safety. It is a well recognised health issue because of high morbidity from infectious diarrhoeal and parasitic diseases attributable to consumption of contaminated food and water. In the Pacific Island countries these diseases rank among the five leading causes of morbidity.

Many developments have taken place at the level of national food safety policies and programmes in the Pacific. However, a lot more needs to be achieved. Some PICTs do not even have laws or have outdated laws and standards, and many have yet to benefit from the global initiative for consumer health protection, the Codex Alimentarius. The Codex Alimentarius offers the opportunity to all countries to join the international community in formulating, harmonising and implementing food standards. This poses some real challenges to the PICTs, some of which were discussed at the above meeting.

In fact most of the proceedings, plenary sessions and group work at the meeting concentrated on four main areas or objectives:

  1. Mechanisms of sharing expertise and coordinating the development of food safety standards in accordance with Codex guidance.
  2. A system of coordinated gathering and sharing of information on food contamination in the Pacific.
  3. Options that PICTs may consider for enhanced foodborne disease surveillance.
  4. Core competencies of food inspectors and training and curricula issues and resources

Work groups made substantial progress in developing recommendations for each of the four objectives. These are yet to be officially published and circulated. The Pacific participants have since further progressed on objective 3, foodborne disease surveillance, in presenting their recommendations at the PPHSN Coordinating Body and EPINET meetings, as reported in the PPHSN CB meeting report above. The PPHSN CB has endorsed, in principle, incorporating foodborne disease (FBD) surveillance under its framework, with the possibility of another focal point like Fiji School of Medicine leading the development. It has appointed a technical working group on FBD surveillance to take the lead in this area.

Some members of the Seremban meeting working group 3 have already furthered the initial activities that were discussed and assigned to them. These include an assessment of capacity to conduct enhanced foodborne disease surveillance by PICTs. A structured questionnaire that was designed at the Seremban meeting has been administered and the collection is in the process of completion. The information from this will be forwarded to the technical working group on foodborne disease surveillance (TWGFBDS) for further action.

The list of members of the TWGFBDS is available on the PPHSN website under the heading Outbreak preparedness & Control > foodborne disease.

Membership of this technical working group is still open to Pacific health professionals who are interested and perhaps working in this or a related area.

Dr Narendra Singh
Communicable Disease Surveillance Specialist