he World Health Organisation has reached out to 16 African nations to provide support for preparedness and response to a listeriosis outbreak that started in South Africa in 2017 but is now threatening other countries on the continent.
Nearly 200 South Africans have died since January 2017 as a result of contaminated ready-to-eat meat products that are widely consumed in South Africa and may also have been exported to two West African countries and 14 members of the South African Development Community (SADC), a WHO statement here on Wednesday said.
South African health authorities recently declared the source of the outbreak as a factory in Polokwane, South Africa. This prompted a national and international recall of the food products. However, in light of the potentially long incubation period of listeriosis and the challenges relating to large scale nationwide recall processes, further cases are likely to occur.
Namibia has reported one confirmed case of listeriosis, a man who was admitted to hospital in early March. An investigation is ongoing to determine whether the case is connected to the outbreak in South Africa.
WHO’s Health Emergencies programme, the Global Outbreak alert and Response Network (GOARN) and the International Food Safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN) are working with the 16 priority countries to improve their ability to prepare for, detect and respond to potential outbreaks.
Immediate steps will include increasing awareness on listeriosis, enhancing active surveillance and laboratory diagnosis, ensuring readiness of Rapid Response Teams, and strengthening coordination and contingency planning. Experts have been deployed to South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland to support these efforts.
'This outbreak is a wake up call for countries in the region to strengthen their national food safety and disease surveillance systems,' said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa