World Health Organization (WHO) experts visited Iraq in recent days to conduct field visits and a workshop on food safety and quality assurance. The international organization has identified food safety as one of the most important issues its’ member states need to address.

Responding to a request by the Iraqi Ministries of Health and Environment, the WHO team visited the country from Jan. 27 to 31. They assessed the situation, highlighted gaps and obstacles, and made recommendations on how to tackle challenges in Iraq’s food safety system. Visits included national laboratories at different institutions and health directorates.

The recommendations included laws, regulations and implementation of food safety policy, emergency preparedness and response, foodborne disease surveillance and response, food safety monitoring and inspection, information and communications and human resources, and finances.

Dr. Alaa Alwan, Iraqi minister of health, said it was very important to assess the safety of food and focus on how to control diseases.

“Food safety is an important issue and a global problem, which causes the death of more than two million people annually, most of whom are children. Those deaths are caused by bacteria, contamination of food by chemicals and pollution that lead to diseases in the gastrointestinal system and kidneys.”

Dr. Alwan added there are problems in preventing diseases, shortages in human resources and capacity, lack of coordination between different sectors, problems in financing food safety activities.

Experts met with Iraqi officials and assessed food safety analysis and assessment, lab tests, sampling and clearance of tested items.

Dr. Adham Ismail, acting representative of WHO in Iraq, said ensuring food safety is one of the most important measures it is keen to implement in member states.

“Such activity helps governments in mitigating the risk of foodborne illnesses and/or health-related conditions. It is also part of International Health Regulations (IHR) developed by WHO in 2005. In Iraq, food safety is one of the top challenges facing the country in IHR implementation. Accordingly, WHO in collaboration with the ministry of health has conducted this mission to improve the situation of food safety as a prerequisite to the successful implementation of IHR in the country,” he said.

Meanwhile, the WHO is co-organizing the upcoming International Food Safety conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The event is scheduled for Feb. 12-13 in conjunction with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the African Union (AU).

One goal of the conference is to identify actions and strategies to address current and future challenges to food safety globally and to strengthen commitment to scale up this area in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Conference speakers are scheduled to include President of Egypt Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (incoming AU chairman), President of Rwanda Paul Kagame (outgoing AU chairman), Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia, AU commission chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat, FAO director-general Jose Graziano da Silva, and WHO director-general Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

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