Researchers have produced country-specific estimates of foodborne diseases in two African countries to raise awareness about the scale of the problem. 

The study assessed the economic cost in Burkina Faso and Ethiopia related to foodborne diseases caused by non-typhoidal Salmonella, Campylobacter, and enterotoxigenic E. coli (ETEC) in all foods, chicken meat, and tomatoes. 

Economic costs were the sum of willingness-to-pay (WTP) estimates to reduce the risk of death, pain and suffering, and lost productivity. 

Mean economic costs related to foodborne diseases 2017 were 391 million in Burkina Faso and 723 million in Ethiopia. Cost estimates are presented in constant 2017 international dollars.

Helping decision-makers understand the issue
Productivity losses in Burkina Faso were 275 million, WTP to reduce risk of death 112 million, and WTP to reduce risk of pain and suffering 4 million.

In Ethiopia, productivity losses were 513 million, WTP to reduce risk of death 192 million, and WTP to reduce risk of pain and suffering 18 million, according to the Frontiers journal Sustainable Food Systems study.

“Country-specific estimates of the economic costs related to foodborne disease due to different foodborne hazards in different food products can inform decision-makers in African countries about the magnitude of the problem. This can aid policymakers in deciding priorities in policies to mitigate risks and prevent illness in their country,” said researchers.

“For policymakers to design and implement effective policies to improve food safety, not only knowing the size and importance of the problem is relevant. It is also important to address why the problem exists, where the value chain hazards manifest themselves, who is responsible or accountable, what solutions are possible, and how they can be applied in a particular context.”

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) estimates of foodborne disease, updated from 2010 to 2017, were used as a basis. The UK Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funded the work.

Costs by pathogen and product
In Burkina Faso, Salmonella caused costs of 280 million, ETEC 68 million, and Campylobacter 43 million. In Ethiopia, Salmonella led to costs of 288 million, ETEC 253 million, and Campylobacter 181 million.

In Burkina Faso, the mean economic costs related to illness caused by Salmonella and Campylobacter in chicken meat were 12 times higher than those caused by Salmonella and ETEC in tomatoes.

In Ethiopia, costs due to Salmonella and Campylobacter in chicken meat were nine times higher than those attributed to Salmonella and ETEC in tomatoes. 

The economic cost estimates related to foodborne diseases in Burkina Faso and Ethiopia were substantial relative to the national economies, even though only three hazards were included.

“This is higher than available estimates in high-income countries, further underlining the disproportionate impact of foodborne diseases on the health and economies of LMIC,” said researchers.

Scientists made several recommendations for control of Salmonella, Campylobacter, and ETEC in chicken and tomatoes in the two nations.

“First, efforts should be increased to control foodborne diseases caused by these hazards. Given the substantial economic costs compared to the countries’ national economies, this will likely result in substantial societal benefits. Second, efforts should focus on children under five years because a disproportionally large part of the economic costs could be attributed to them. Potential policies could focus on interventions to induce parents to purchase safer foods for young children and to prepare these foods at home safely.

“Third, efforts to control Salmonella in chicken meat and tomatoes could have a larger economic impact than those focusing on ETEC or Campylobacter because Salmonella caused the highest costs. Fourth, efforts should focus more on chicken meat than tomatoes because the economic costs of chicken meat were nine to 12 times higher than those of tomatoes.”

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