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The East African : Jan 26th 2015
32 The EastAfrican OUTLOOK JANUARY 24-30,2015 S CI E N C E “The problem is that most foodstuffs are produced and consumed locally with limited or no testing by the relevant authorities,” she said. “There is an urgent need to create public awareness and conduct training and research, as well as set appropriate standards and regulations to ensure that products comply with both regional and international market requirements.” Aflatoxins are estimated to Farmers at Chepkanga in Uasin Gishu County in Kenya’s Rift Valley dry their maize using a mobile drier, at its launch in November 2013. Picture: File War against aflatoxins gets $10.7m govt boost The money will be used to upscale the p≥evention and cont≥ol of the fungal moulds By CHRISTABEL LIGAMI Special Correspondent national treasury to fight aflatoxins in the country. The money will be spent in the T next two financial years to create awareness on the fungal moulds that grow on food crops including maize and groundnuts; conduct a national survey that will help develop outbreak trends and risk maps; and promote proper drying, shelling and storage technologies to minimise contamination. The move is an acknowledge- ment of the fact that climate change is complicating measures put in place to control aflatoxins. For example, drought-stressed crops are more susceptible to aflatoxin accumulation. According to Sicily Kariuki, the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, the focus will be on eastern and southwestern Kenya he Kenyan government has approved $10.7 million from the which are hardest hit by aflatoxin contamination. Counties targeted include Machakos, Makueni, Kitui, Embu, Tharaka Nithi, Tana River, Kilifi, Kwale, Lamu and parts of Muranga. Aflatoxins (Aspergillus mycotox- ins) are toxic chemicals produced as by-products by fungi (moulds). The toxins can cause both acute and chronic toxicity in humans and animals. Researchers say that poor handling of produce and the lack of access to proper harvesting technologies increases the chances of contamination. The funding to fight aflatoxins in the country comes as a relief to researchers who have been asking for adequate resources to do the job. Sheila Okoth, an associate pro- fessor of botany at the University of Nairobi’s School of Biological Sciences, said she hopes part of the money will go into ongoing research at centres such as the International Livestock Research Institute and the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, which are al- ready conducting trials on tackling aflatoxins. “While the toxins occur every- where in the world, they particularly pose high risks in tropical developing countries such as Kenya where staple foods such as maize and sorghum comprise a large part of the diets of the poor,” said Prof Okoth. “The disease-causing fungi thrive in the soils of tropical regions due to the warm temperatures and moisture, making prevention difficult; control is the only way out,” said the professor. She said that it was important that the government sets up centralised drying and storage facilities in counties for farmers, as is the case in developed countries. Prof Okoth said that because farmers often feed mouldy grain to livestock, this exposes humans to toxins that accumulate in dairy products and eggs. The government should set up centralised drying and storage facilities for farmers.” Sheila Okoth, professor of botany, University of Nairobi contaminate 25 per cent of the global food supply — with 4.5 billion people exposed to high, unmonitored levels — primarily in developing countries. Kenya is one of the world’s hotspots for aflatoxins, with 2004 and 2010 being the years the country recorded the highest incidences of acute toxicity since the country started keeping records. The government estimates that 10 per cent of the maize harvest was contaminated, with losses valued at over $1 billion, cutting across the value chain, affecting farmers, millers, traders and consumers. Across East Africa, approxi- mately 132 million people depend on maize as a staple food. Maize crops are susceptible to accumulation of toxic fungal metabolites (mycotoxins). Given the technology required for detection, these invisible toxins are under-recognised, putting at risk the health of African populations and setting barriers to development and trade. At the regional level, the East African Community Secretariat is spearheading the implementation of the Multi-Regional Aflatoxin Abatement Project on aflatoxin prevention and control, with financial support from the United States Agency for International Development regional office for East Africa. The project aims at preventing and controlling the adverse impacts of aflatoxins along the food and feed value chain. At the continental level, the African Union Commission has established the Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa secretariat, which acts as the point of reference on control of the toxins. S. Sudan ≥epo≥ts most cases of Guinea-wo≥m disease By BAMUTURAKI MUSINGUZI Special Correspondent LAST YEAR, South Sudan registered more than half of the 126 Guinea-worm (Dracunculiasis) disease cases reported worldwide. Most of the 70 cases reported in the country, or 56 per cent of the global total, were in Eastern Equatoria state. The other cases were reported in isolated areas of Mali (40), Chad (13) and Ethiopia (3), according to the US-based Carter Centre. These numbers, reported by ministries of health in the four endemic nations and compiled by the centre, show that cases of the debilitating disease declined by 15 per cent in 2014 compared with the 148 recorded in 2013. When the centre led the first international campaign to eradicate the water-borne disease in 1986, there were an estimated 3.5 million Guinea-worm cases occurring annually in Africa and Asia. “We believe eradi- cation of Guineaworm disease is possible in the next few years, but success will require the strong commitment and focus of the four remaining endemic countries and the many international partners in this public health initiative,” said former US president Jimmy Carter, whose Carter Centre leads the international campaign to eradicate the disease. In South Sudan, the overall number of Guinea-worm cases has been reduced by 99 per cent Jimmy Carter. Pic: AFP since 2006. The Carter Centre said that while this number represents great relative success, continued efforts towards improved peace and stability will be vital in maintaining the levels of surveillance and supervision necessary to reach the ultimate goal of eradication. The Guinea-worm is transmitted exclusively when people drink water contaminated with parasite-infected water-fleas. The Carter Centre said that in the absence of a vaccine or medical treatment, the disease is being wiped out mainly through community-based interventions to educate and change behaviour, including teaching people to filter drinking water and preventing contamination. Guinea-worm disease is positioned to be the second human disease, after smallpox, to be eradicated. It will be the first parasitic disease to be eradicated and the first without the use of a vaccine or medicine. BRIEFS New Ebola vaccines to be tried in West Africa Two promising Ebola vaccines will soon be tried on the frontline of the epidemic in West Africa, the World Health Organisation has announced. Trials in limited numbers of volunteers suggest the vaccines are safe and can generate an immune response. Further trials on thousands of people will take place in Africa, including among healthcare workers. It is still unclear how much protection against Ebola or for how long the vaccines will provide. Want to quit smoking? Take a blood test A blood test could help people choose a stop-smoking strategy that would give them the best chance of quitting, a study published in the Lancet journal suggests. Studies show that as many as 60 per cent of people who try to give up start smoking again in the first week. But the researchers argue that measuring how quickly a person breaks down nicotine could boost their chances of success. They found that people who broke down nicotine at a normal rate had a better chance of quitting while using the varenicline drug than those using nicotine replacement patches. Up to 60pc of people who try to quit, start smoking again in the first week. Pic: AFP Study: WHO unapproved drug safe for mothers Researchers at Mbarara University of Science and Technology in Uganda have announced findings of a study that will prevent maternal deaths in developing countries. The study, aimed at establishing whether misoprostol, a drug that is not recommended by the World Health Organisation is inferior to oxytocin, which is recommended for use in preventing mothers from bleeding to death after giving birth. They found that misoprostol should be encouraged in settings where oxytocin is not feasible, to curb maternal deaths which have continued to rise over the years. For better memory in infants, long naps key The key to learning and memory in early life is a lengthy nap, say scientists. Trials involving 216 babies up to 12 months old indicated they were unable to remember new tasks if they did not have lengthy sleep soon afterwards. The University of Sheffield study suggested the best time to learn may be just before sleep, and emphasised the importance of reading at bedtime. Experts said sleep may be much more important in early years.
Jan 19th 2015
Feb 2nd 2015