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Ghana struggles in fight to achieve food safety, food expert says

By: Mohammed Lawal (Africa Center of Excellence for Mycotoxin and Food Safety-ACEMFS)

Estimating the burden of foodborne diseases in Ghana will directly help in the efficient allocation of already limited resources and efforts to the food safety fight for significant improvement of food safety in Ghana. 

In recent years, food safety has been recognized and is gaining attention globally. Policies and interventions have been formulated and implemented to boost food safety, yet the impact of food borne diseases is still enormous – affecting public health and threatening economic advancements. 

Ghana, like other developing countries, struggles in its fight to achieve food safety (1). There is a need for more appropriate interventions that target the most critical food safety problems. This article is aimed at affirming why measuring or estimating the burden of food borne disease in Ghana will boost the fight to achieve food safety. 

The burden of disease is a concept that describes death and loss of health due to diseases, injuries and risk factors in a population. The concept was developed by the Harvard School of Public Health, The World Bank and The World Health Organization (WHO) in the 1990s (2). The burden of a specific disease is estimated by adding together the Years of Life Lost (YLL) and Years of Life Lived with Disability (YLD) which gives a figure estimated as disease burden called Disability Adjusted Life Year (DALY). 1 DALY is equal to the loss of 1 year of life lived in full health. 

YLL is the product of the number of death (M) and average remaining life expectancy at the time of death (RLE). YLD is the product of the number of incident cases (N), the average duration until death (D) and the disability weight (DW). The burden of disease for more than 130 different causes of death and disability has been described successfully by the WHO, both on a global and regional scale using this method (3). 

In 2007, WHO established the Foodborne Disease Burden Epidemiology Reference Group (FERG) to help obtain better insight into the global and regional burden of foodborne diseases (4). The first ever estimates of the global burden of foodborne diseases were then published in 2015 which estimated that unsafe foods led to 600 million cases of foodborne illness, 420,000 deaths and loss of 33 million years of healthy life globally (4). This data highlighted the importance of food safety and how considerable the global burden of foodborne diseases is. 

Data on estimates of foodborne diseases burden are virtually non-existent in Ghana. Available data are primarily on the prevalence and surveillance and not the burden imposed by these foodborne diseases. 

A handbook titled, “Estimating the burden of foodborne diseases: A practical handbook for countries” which guides the measuring of the foodborne diseases burden at the national level has been published by the WHO in June 2021 based on the methodology of FERG (2). This provides an opportunity for Ghana through the Ministries of Health, Food & Agriculture, The Ghana Health Service, The Food & Drugs Authority, The Veterinary Services Department, The Academia and all other relevant stakeholders to collaborate and estimate the foodborne disease burden of the country which will directly improve significantly food safety in Ghana. 

For Ghana, estimating of foodborne disease burden may be challenging due to reasons such as inadequate robust surveillance systems and only a fraction of people who fall ill from eating contaminated food seek care or treatment at a public health institution. The handbook by the WHO for estimating foodborne disease at the national level; however, has been organized to reflect the necessary steps that when adapted to Ghana’s capacity will be helpful to achieve the goal of estimating its foodborne disease burden. 

Normally, poorly informed policy-making contributes significantly to the reasons why attempts to maintain and improve public health fail (3). Estimating the burden of foodborne disease results in scientific data and evidence which is key to improving public health. It provides accurate and meaningful health information which should guide policy-making to make it beneficial. 

Through estimation of the burden of foodborne disease, the most important diseases and sources of exposure within a territory is revealed, and then ranks them according to their public health impact (2). This means it will help Ghana in the efficient allocation of already limited resources and efforts required to improve food safety significantly in Ghana. 

Also, estimating the burden of foodborne disease assists in exposing food safety system needs and gaps (2) which will guide Ghana food safety policymakers to set priorities for developing national food safety infrastructure and capacity. 

According to the WHO, there is multiple stakeholders’ engagement during the burden of foodborne diseases estimation. In Ghana, this alone will help to unify and align national efforts to improve food safety especially as the distance created between government institutions in charge of food safety and the academia will be closed. 

Finally, estimating the burden of foodborne diseases in Ghana will contribute immensely to the development of new national food safety standards, promote participation in activities for setting international food standards and economic conversations and as well, quantify the burden of foodborne diseases in the country. 


  1. Lawal M. Prioritizing Food Safety in Ghana. [Cited on 2021 June 16]. Available from: Prioritizing food safety in Ghana – Scientect
  2. World Health Organization. Estimating the burden of foodborne diseases: A practical handbook for countries. [Cited on 2021 June 16]. Available from: Estimating the burden of foodborne diseases: A practical handbook for countries (
  3. World Health Organization. Burden of Disease. [Cited on 2021 June 16]. Available from:
  4. Havelaar A. & Lake R. WHO Estimates of the Global Burden of Foodborne diseases. [Cited on 2021 June 18]. Available from:

Featured Image Source: Market in Kumasi by Elizabeth Otu []

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