Accra, Dec. 12, GNA – Ghanaian children are susceptible to aflatoxin, a harmful toxin produced by fungi that are commonly found in cereals such as rice, maize, millet, and groundnut, which are staples often used to feed them.
The next vulnerable category are adults with reduced natural immunity system due to Tuberculosis and Hepatitis B, patients who have undergone transplant and were on immune suppressive drugs.
In Ghana, the common fungi called Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus are found in animal products including meat, eggs, poultry and milk, which could cause liver cancer.
Professor Kwabena Frimpong–Boateng, the Minister of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation (MESTI), who disclosed this at the inauguration of the National Steering Committee for Aflatoxin Control, said studies had shown that 30 per cent of all liver cancers could be traced to aflatoxins.
The primary aim of the Committee, made up of stakeholders from research institutions, food production organisations and the media have the responsibility to spearhead aflatoxins control actions and work closely with the relevant organisation to prioritise aflatoxins in the national programmes.
The Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa is facilitating the establishment of the National Steering Committee for Aflatoxin Control.
Prof. Frimpong-Boateng said aflatoxins were poisons and a danger to the health of people, animals, and livestock, even when in low concentrations, saying; “People and animals get aflatoxin from food and animal feed, respectively, prepared from contaminated crop produce.”
However, he said various studies had shown that traditional food processing, including soaking, sprouting and fermenting grains reduced levels of aflatoxins significantly, thereby posing little danger to people’s health.
While urging the public to choose food processing options that reduced aflatoxin, he said heating food at the level of 100 and 150 degrees could reduce the presence of aflatoxin but that could not be an alternative because excess heat could reduce the minerals and vitamins in the food.
Dr Rose Omari, the Project Coordinator at Science and Technology Policy Research Institute, of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research reiterated that exposure to aflatoxin could occur through inhalation and transmission from mother to child through the l placenta and breast milk.
She said exposure to high levels of aflatoxins results in acute health effects such as aflatoxicosis, which could cause internal bleeding and death in severe cases.
She explained that chronic exposure to low levels of aflatoxin over time could result in health problems such as suppression of the immune system, delayed recovery from kwashiorkor, stunting, impairment of liver function, and liver cancer.
Economically, Dr Omari noted that aflatoxins also posed a barrier to trade due to the rejection of contaminated products by exporting countries, especially the European Union.
“It is estimated that Africa loses up to 670 million dollars annually due to aflatoxin contamination. In 2004, Ghana was ranked among the top 10 countries with the highest number of alert notifications by the European Union’s Rapid Alert System of Food and Feed,” she said.
Considering the health, food security and economic implications of aflatoxins, Dr Omari said there was an urgent need to put in place a comprehensive strategy to explicitly tackle the problem.