Food Safety is becoming a priority in Zambia. The government is revising its food safety strategy and preparing new legislation to improve and modernize food safety governance. In the private sector, a number of food enterprises are upgrading their food safety practices to stay on par with their peers abroad and cater to increasingly demanding consumers.
These improvements are timely and appropriate. While the extent of foodborne risks in Zambia isn’t fully known, recurrent cholera and typhoid outbreaks as well as the fact that 60 percent of the population suffers from diarrhea suggest that foodborne pathogens, poor hygiene and sanitation and other food safety risks are having a negative impact. Anecdotal information supports this point. In conversations with partners in Zambia, over a cup of coffee or dinner, I asked what they thought could cause diarrhea? Most of them responded that it was probably something they ate. They complained that while diarrhea was not a “big deal,” and that “their stomachs were used to bacteria,” it reduced productivity because they had to take sick days away from work. Aside from causing a high death rate among children and the elderly, these diseases place a significant burden on straining public health services, reduce the productivity of the working population and constrain development. Furthermore, the economic and human costs of these diseases are huge.
Even during the busy Spring Meetings here in Washington, my thoughts keep going back to two places I visited this month that lie on either side of the Congo River. I crossed the great river by boat from Brazzaville to Kinshasa, a special journey for many reasons. In Brazzaville, capital of the tiny Republic of Congo, I’d been impressed by the quality of leadership in managing additional financing for one of our projects which addresses HIV/AIDS, and on the other side of the river, I was returning to the Democratic Republic of Congo after a long gap, to find that a health systems rehabilitation project I’d worked on many years ago was in fact thriving and delivering good results.
Today being World Malaria Day, I must register that I saw some extremely useful work going on in Kikimi, a very poor neighborhood near Kinshasa. Our partnership with local NGOs to provide better health services across DRC looks like it’s working well here. Instead of just being shown reports on inputs and equipment, which I’ve found frustrating in the past, this time I met a large number of women who told me about insecticide-treated bed nets they’d received during routine visits to their health center and how useful these nets were to prevent malaria. I saw pharmacy shelves well-stocked with malaria drugs, oral rehydration therapy for diarrhea, and basic antibiotics. The project wasn’t perfect but it was delivering results that I could see with my own eyes.