PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad – Each year, worldwide, unsafe foods cause 600 million cases of foodborne diseases (FBD) and 423,000 deaths. In the Caribbean region, each year, roughly 1 in 49 people acquire foodborne illness due to consumption of contaminated food or drink, and this further increases to 1 in 11 persons during mass gathering events. Over 40 percent of cases are noted in children 1-4 years.
On December 6-7, 2021, the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), convened a virtual Foodborne Diseases Surveillance and Food Safety Training Workshop to bolster countries’ ability to prevent and respond to FBD and build capacity in food safety measures. This intensive 2-day event saw the participation of 64 multisectoral representatives, from veterinary, epidemiological, laboratory and environmental health sectors from 12 CARPHA Member States (CMS).
In her opening remarks, Dr Joy St John, CARPHA executive director, stated: “Food safety is a global health priority as food- and water-borne diseases are a major concern because of morbidity, mortality and economic burden. It is also a significant health security issue since FBD can rapidly spread across borders, through travel and trade.”
Dr Lisa Indar, CARPHA’s director surveillance disease Prevention and control division outlined that CARPHA, one of its progenitors Caribbean Epidemiology Centre (CAREC) and PAHO/WHO have been working with Caribbean countries to strengthen FBD surveillance since 2005, using the “One Health” approach, integrating epidemiological, laboratory, environmental health and veterinary aspects of FBD and food safety. Dr Margarita Corrales, Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Food Safety Coordinator, reemphasized the need for the “One Health” approach in her remarks at the workshop. She pointed out, “Surveillance systems are not totally working correctly and there are gaps. It is necessary to have integrated surveillance, including ecosystems, animal health and human health.”
On Day One, participants learnt about integrated FBD surveillance, the essential role of the laboratory and outbreak investigations, while CARPHA facilitators supported country teams to develop and update national FBD action plans. On Day 2, CARPHA facilitated an Advanced Food Safety Training that outlined how foods become contaminated, food safety measures from farm to table, and food safety management systems. Given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, emphasis was made on incorporating COVID-19 measures (masking, social distancing, hygiene) in all food service activities.
CARPHA will share an Advanced Food Safety Training Manual and the revised Laboratory Manual on FBD with Member States, the latter of which was funded though PAHO/WHO.
Capacities in 12 CMS have been built to reduce FBDs, improve food safety and thereby enhance economic sustainability. This is particularly crucial at a time when COVID-19 has devastated economies. CARPHA and PAHO/WHO continue to collaborate with CMS to improve food safety and security and reduce FBD in the Caribbean region through multisectoral integrated FBD surveillance and response and strengthened capacity.