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The East African : May 31st 2015
32 The EastAfrican OUTLOOK MAY 30 - JUNE 5, 2015 S CI E N C E aflatoxins of 10 parts per billion (ppb). One ppb is the equivalent of one microgramme per kilogramme, and is the maximum contamination standard for Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. Archileo Kaaya, professor of food technology and nutrition at Makerere University, said one of the biggest problems is the informal market, which dominates maize trade in these countries. “Maize sold through formal in- stitutions is tested, hence safe, but that sold through informal trade across the border, is not,” said Prof Kaaya, who has conducted extensive studies on aflatoxins. The contamination develops on Farmers dry maize. Over half of the maize exports from Kenya and samples from Uganda has been found to be above the allowable limit of aftlatoxin content. Picture: File Comesa to set up labs to fight aflatoxin poisoning Ove≥ half of the samples tested we≥e found to be above the allowable limit of aflatoxins By JULIUS BARIGABA The EastAfrican J ust how safe is that ugali on your dinner table? As the staple food of East and Southern Africa, maize is one of most informally traded and consumed commodities across the borders, but therein lie serious health and food safety concerns, as it is prone to naturally occurring but deadly poisons — aflatoxins. In recent years, scientists have been spending hours in laboratories and grain fields, seeking to control the naturally produced poisonous strain of the aspergillus fungus species that is invisible to the naked eye, and whose consumption, even in very minute quantities, is sufficient to cause severe illness or death. Because of this, regional efforts to control aflatoxins are being intensified. Last month, scientists met in the Tanzanian capital Dar es Salaam and came up with a protocol on aflatoxin sampling procedures to facilitate effective regional trade for unprocessed maize and groundnuts. The meeting was convened by the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa). The aflatoxin affected countries are Kenya, Zambia, Malawi, Uganda, Rwanda and Madagascar. Comesa has entered into strate- gic partnerships to harmonise aflatoxin control measures and improve regulatory environment, according to Martha Byanyima, Comesa sanitary and phytosanitary co-ordinator. Scientists whom The EastAfri- can interviewed said that more than half of the samples they have tested of maize sold in Uganda and maize bound for export markets, especially in Kenya, have been found to be above the allowable limit of “Uganda has been working to develop maize varieties that are resistant to aflatoxin accumulation.” Julius Serumaga, National Crop Resources Research Institute crops that are stressed by severe heat and drought, but can also occur and spread when the grain is stored with moisture levels of 15-20 per cent, which attracts the moulds that produce aflatoxins. Studies by the Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa (Paca) reveal that aflatoxins contaminate maize, groundnuts, rice, sorghum and cassava due to dry weather when the crop is near maturity, high moisture during harvest, inadequate drying and storage. Livestock products like milk have aflatoxins as a result of animals eating feeds made from aflatoxin contaminated produce. Long-term exposure to aflatoxin is dangerous, as it can bind nutrients in the body, and reduce immunity. Aflatoxins also cause liver cancer, enhance the effect of hepatitis B virus, and cause stunting and kwashiorkor among children. Faced with the devastating ef- fects of aflatoxin on regional trade and food safety, the region has come up with a recognition framework that will support a network of 11 specialised laboratories in Comesa member states, with competence in aflatoxin analysis and certification. Four of these labs will be established in Kenya, which has been cited as the country most at risk, two in Malawi, and one each in Rwanda, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo. People a≥e catching bugs f≥om domestic animals — study BY JEFF OTIENO The EastAfrican THE CHANCES of members of a family falling ill increase when their livestock become sick or die of a disease. A new study conducted in western Kenya by a group of scientists has revealed a strong link between the number of illnesses among family members and the number of livestock diseases and deaths in the same household. The research that analysed data collected from 1,500 households and their livestock in 10 villages for one year found that for every 10 cases of animal illness or death that occurred, the probability of human sickness in the same household increased by about 31 per cent. “Our findings help to understand, in quan- titative terms, the complex pathways that link livestock health to the health and welfare of the humans who own them,” said the Kenyan lead author Thumbi Mwangi, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Washington State University’s Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health. But the study is yet to establish whether animals suffering from those ailments are passing many were found to have neglected the health of their animals, an indication that some of the diseases members of the household suffer from originate from sick animals. Diseases transferred from animals to human A dog wearing a mask to guard against H1N1 virus. the pathogens directly to the people who own them, as this will be ascertained in the next phase. “The next step is finding whether there are is a link between the diseases suffered by animals and man. We will find out whether the pathogens in the diseases found in animals are the same as those in the diseases suffered by family members. If they are, indeed, the same, then we can conclude that the animals are the reservoirs of the diseases,” Mr Mwangi said. Although most of the farmers in the sample study owned cattle, goats, sheep and chickens, beings — also known as zoonotic diseases — are becoming a major concern for the World Health Organisation and disease experts. They both agree that the world’s next pandemics are likely to be zoonotic diseases. Deadly zoonotic diseases that have killed hundreds of people include Ebola, bird flu, swine flu (H1N1), bubonic plague and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). “Over half of the households (54 per cent) did not regularly control for ticks in their livestock and only 2 per cent of the households reported vaccinating their cattle against any diseases,” said the scientists involved in the study. During the study period, 2193 cases of live- stock illness and deaths were recorded. Of these, 75 per cent were illnesses in cattle, sheep and goats and 25 per cent were mortality cases in cattle, sheep, goats, and chicken. Cattle contributed 58 percent of all cases of illness, with goats and sheep contributing 28 per cent and 14 per cent of the cases respectively. BRIEFS New scanner to help in detecting cancer A new scanner, the first of its kind in Africa, will help detect and treat cancer in humans much earlier and more efficiently by showing researchers the effects of certain drugs on animals. The Micro PET/CT (positron emission tomography/computed tomography) scanner forms a 3D image of a subject by administering them with a “radiopharmaceutical drug.” Unlike the other scanners for detecting cancer, this one will be used on animals. The resulting data and research will be used to treat humans with cancer. Overweight teens ‘risk bowel cancer later in life’ Being overweight in adolescence is linked to a greater risk of bowel cancer later in life, a new study suggests. Researchers followed nearly 240,000 men for 35 years and their analysis, published in the journal Gut , showed overweight teenagers went on to have twice the risk of bowel cancer. The figures were even higher in obese teens. The World Cancer Research Fund said the link between obesity and cancer was “strong.” Processed red meat and abdominal fat have been linked to the disease. New tool to track cash in Uganda’s health sector Uganda’s Ministry of Health has launched a new electronic tool for the government to to track all resources allocated for maternal, new-born and child health. The tool will be used to track foreign aid and budgetary allocations and all monies received by civil society organisations. The aims is to establish the source of funding, who the managers and the implementers are, and the areas of intervention and inputs used. Overuse of paracetamol affects unborn males Prolonged paracetamol use by pregnant women may reduce testosterone production in their unborn sons, research has found. Scientists at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland said their study adds to existing evidence that too much paracetamol in pregnancy may increase the risk of reproductive disorders in male babies. They said expectant mothers should follow existing guidelines on the use of the painkiller. Current medical guidance on paracetamol use during pregnancy advises that, as with any medicine, it should be taken at the lowest effective dose for the shortest possible time.
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