Ministry of Health food borne disease study begins

Monday, September 24, will be the official start of the Ministry of Health’s Burden of Illness study.

The Ministry of Health will do the study in collaboration with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the Caribbean Epidemiology Center (CAREC) – Trinidad and Tobago.

The study was officially launched at the Biltmore Plaza on Thursday, September 6. It aims to determine the prevalence of acute gastroenteritis related to food and water infection; and further investigate the more common viruses or bacteria transmitted by food.

The Reporter was reliably informed that the original start-up date was to be September 17, but some Customs issues caused the delay.

According to World Health Organization (WHO) statistics, in 2005, “1.5 million people die worldwide from diarrheal illnesses attributed to food borne diseases.”

WHO notes that diarrhea and vomiting occur so commonly that in many cases , no laboratory testing is done to ascertain the exact cause, so a food-borne infection may go unreported.

CAREC has reported that data from across the Caribbean, including Belize, indicate an increase in the number of cases of acute gastroenteritis, a syndrome of food borne illness.

In 2008 the Ministry of Health established a food borne disease surveillance system that monitors patients in the public and private facilities who suffer from acute gastroenteritis.

But so far it has been unable calculate the exact number of gastroenteritis cases resulting from food borne infections.

Chief Executive Officer Dr Peter Allen of the Ministry of Health urges all the public to assist in the study by giving a stool sample to a lab technician if you have symptoms of vomiting or diarrhea. Allen explained that there are different causes of diarrheal diseases, and if an antibiotic is given to a patient who  has viral-based diarrhea, the result, apart from the patient not being helped, is an unnecessary use of time and resources.

Dr. Lisa Indar, Manager, Food Borne Diseases Program, CAREC, indicates one of the important aspects of the study is the economic impact of food-borne illnesses have on each country.

According to Dr. Indar, because of the commonness of diarrheal diseases, the amount of people out of  work throughout the years, the loss of time, the amount spent on medication, a county’s losses can be estimated in the millions.

During the one year study period, two surveys will be done, one in September, and another in April 2013. The complement of data after this  should yield determinate results as it has in other countries that have participated in the study.

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