Millennium Post

Labs, staff crunch major hurdle in surveillance of foodborne diseases

Labs, staff crunch major hurdle in surveillance of foodborne diseases
Even after more than a year of its start up, the Ministry of Health is facing the challenge of putting in place a surveillance system that can help identify and investigate outbreaks due to lack of labs and health professionals in the field of Epidemiology. With the objective to identify pathogens responsible for outbreak of foodborne diseases, the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), an arm of Health Ministry, had initiated a pilot project in October 2013 in four districts in the states of Gujarat and Tamil Nadu. The NCDC team, however, is yet to get any realistic data on foodborne diseases.

“The present challenge is surveillance of foodborne diseases. We do not have enough labs and Epidemoilogists in the country at the district level to investigate such diseases,” said Anil Kumar, head of Epidemoilogy division at the NCDC. Stating that the government does not have exact figures on foodborne diseases in the country, Kumar said the only recent data on foodborne diseases was collected under the Integrated Disease Surveillance Project (IDSP), which reported 306 disease outbreaks due to food contamination in 2014.

The health ministry official informed that the NCDC is currently running a surveillance programme to detect foodborne diseases on a pilot basis in Ahmedabad Rural and Sabarkantha districts of Gujarat, while Kanchipuram and Kannur districts of Tamil Nadu.

Replying to a question on the outcome of the pilot project, Dr Lata, the project in-charge, said, “Work is still going one. We are yet to see the outcome. It takes time as it is not easy to monitor and detect diseases. We have selected Ahmedabad as this district has lab capacity. We collect stool samples of the affected people from the areas where cases of food poising come to notice. It took around more than a year in just changing the mindset of the people.”

Talking about ‘food safety’ as theme of this year’s World Health Day, WHO India official Asheena Khalakdina said that around 2 million people around the globe are killed annually due to food and water-borne diseases. There is no India specific data on foodborne illnesses, but policy makers should have reliable surveillance to address such disease outbreaks, she said, adding that the WHO campaign aims to spur governments to improve food safety and encourage consumers to ensure the food on their plate is safe.
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