The last century has seen a dramatic four-fold increase in the global population. Such rapid growth has resulted in an alarmingly high demand for food, and the human population is struggling to cope with this rise.
Food demand and supply are important share-holders in human health, economic prosperity and sustainable development within a population. Alongside the threat of global-hunger, efforts to eliminate it is taking a toll on the environment. Sustainable food supply is the need of the hour.
Production of food whilst reserving land, energy, water and resources for the generations of follow is a key pillar in ensuring that food is healthy for today’s population and food supplies are reserved for the generations to follow.
Countless individuals and organisations possess the power to decide whether the food on your table is safe for you. Annually 600 million people are diagnosed with a food-borne illness and out of these 420,000 people die a preventable death. These deaths are the consequence of approximately 200 different food-borne illnesses. Data shows that children under 5 years make up the greater portion of these fatalities.
Malnourishment is detrimental for a child. Pakistan is among the countries facing issues of maternal and child malnutrition resulting in maternal morbidity and mortality and problems of stunting and wasting among children. Most child deaths are reportedly due to diseases caused by malnutrition. Gastroenteritis, hepatitis, typhoid, cholera, dysentry and various other purely medical terms have been adopted into the general population’s vocabulary. According to UNICEF, every year 53,000 Pakistani children die of diarrhoea.
Additionally, girls and women are severely deficient in iron, calcium, vitamins and other micronutrients. These deficiencies impact the quality of their life and are leading causes of morbidity and mortality. Having a greater than 50% female to male population, women make up a greater portion of the potential workforce. As a developing country, Pakistan’s population is one of its biggest assets and resources. Food-borne illnesses threaten the availability of this resource and increase the load on the already over-burdened health and economic systems.
One of the greater threats to the quality of life and economic prosperity of our population is unhygienic food practices in our country. Food is contaminated by various chemicals, physical substances and biological organisms. More than two-third of Pakistan’s population is currently drinking and washing their food with bacteria-contaminated water.
If this crisis is not addressed head-on, it will widen the financial gap between the developed and developing world. The price of this disparity will be the quality of life of approximately 70% of the global population, who reside in the underdeveloped world.
Hence, the availability of uncontaminated, safe food is a topic of national and global interest. Additionally, ensuring our future populations have had adequate and healthy food is also a responsibility of our government and the society’s family, education and health systems.
The promise of healthier population in the future, lies in the appropriate nutrition of infant and young children today. Lack of knowledge of appropriate breastfeeding habits, weaning, nutrition rich diet and proper macro-nutrient and micro-nutrient-rich foods is the consequence of low female education rates. The poor quality of life of women puts the mother and her children at high risk of malnutrition. Maternal literacy and quality feeding practices and programmes are urgently required to mitigate the problems at its roots. Women and children’s nutrition among other factors should be the centre point of the national agenda on public health.
Realising the scale of the problem, in 2018 the WHO and Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) declared 7th June the ‘World Safe Food Day,’ to combat and raise awareness for the challenge that pertains to every person around the globe. They call for harmony in ensuring that safe practices and policies are adopted and implemented to ensure that growth, processing, storage and buying of food is done in a safe and sustainable. The government, agriculture and food producers, business suppliers, transporters and consumers are all some of the stakeholders in this food supply chain.
Pakistan must also play its roll and ensure this agenda is adopted as a national priority. Steps will begin by strengthening legislation and taking legal action against offenders in the supply chains who fraudulently compromise on the quality of food being delivered to the markets. Likewise, consumers must take responsibility to ensure they inquire and study about the source and components of the food they are ingesting. Additionally, realising the uniqueness of the situation faced by third-world nations, we must plan for our future generations.
There is need to monitor and evaluate the infant and young children feeding practices and orchestrate collaboration and cooperation among various stakeholders to improve the quality of care and support for women and children. Systemic improvements in various sectors will lead to sustainable change.
On this World Food Safety day let us pledge to strengthen the system and support food security and adequate nutrition for mothers and children – for a thriving future.
Dr Fatima Shafiq– Dean’s Clinical Research Fellow at the Department of ObGyn, Aga Khan University- is the co-author of this blog