Liver and lung diseases a threat to SEAsia

Unless urgent measures are taken to address health safety issues caused by parasitic infections in Southeast Asia, liver and lung diseases may rise significantly, health experts warned during a Danish funded WHO/FAO seminar in Hanoi by the end of November.
Over 70 international advisers and government officials from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam gathered at the three day workshop which was organized by the Danish International Development Agency and the Centre for Experimental Parasitology in Denmark.
“Infections caused by food trematodes — small worms that affect people through the consumption of raw fish — are preventable and treatable, yet are often neglected,” the World Health Organization (WHO) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned in a statement.
“Food-borne trematode infections constitute a major emerging health problem with an estimated 40 million people affected worldwide. The majority of the populations at risk are in Eastern and Southern Asia.”
Infections caused by trematodes can result in chronic diseases affecting the liver or the lungs, the WHO said. Symptons are often severe and are a major cause of disability in infected individuals.
Experts say some of these parasites are associated with the development of liver cancer.
The two international agencies, who are co-hosting the regional seminar, say parasitic diseases mainly affect poor people in developing countries.
“Public research institutes do not consider these diseases a priority, and research and development for drugs to treat these illnesses is inadequate because of the poor return on investment. Limited government response exacerbates the problem.”
An estimated one-third of the population in northeastern Thailand is infected by food-borne trematodes, resulting in an annual loss of wages of around 65 million dollars, according to the WHO.
The direct costs of medical care result in a further loss of 19.4 million dollars.
The WHO and FAO say parasitic infections are most commonly associated with aquaculture, one of the fastest growing food production systems in the world.
Approximately 90 percent of global aquaculture production is based in Asia. In Vietnam around four million people work in the industry, which is one of the country’s major foreign-exchange earners.
“In future farmed fish will be an even more important source of food protein than they are today.
“This expansion in aquaculture trade will mean a higher parasitic infection rate in humans unless direct measures are taken to address health safety issues.”

About Gregers Møller

Editor-in-Chief • ScandAsia Publishing Co., Ltd. • Bangkok, Thailand

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