We need proper regulatory standard against food poisoning – Amafah

With the increasing numbers of deaths arising from  obesity to cardiovascular complications, the country director of Global Health Advocacy, Joy Amafah in this interview with SUNNY IDACHABA and LEKAN OLASEINDE highlights proper eating habits and necessary standards to avoid premature deaths and untimely sicknesses. 

Tell us what Global Health Advocacy Incubator (GHAI) does in the country.
What we do is to support local partners and civil society across the globe by providing technical assistance, encouraging  information sharing when it comes to data analysis and other regular resources. We  believe that to carry out a  good advocacy, we need a  strong campaign for health policy and a lot of media work and sensitisation through traditional and digital platforms. We also had another programme where we supported the Sugar  Beverages Act in the National Assembly even though a lot of people had their reservations about it especially how taxes would improve health.

How much impact has GHAI created especially among women?
I think before we actually started working on this particular campaign, nobody even knew that there was something like trans-fatty or cardiovascular-related disease and they were not even aware that this thing we talk about is involved in our day-to-day lives. There was no awareness that this is something that we consume  on a daily basis and right around us; so in terms of impact, first of all, we have  created a lot of awareness at the top and grassroot levels. We have also been able to make transfers in a public health concern among the government because we think the government should take it as priority to update existing regulations. I will say that the more people are aware and the less they   consume them, then the  less death would be recorded on an annual basis.
How do you intend to get this advocacy across to your target audience?
First of all, I will say the work has been at the national level to get the regulation assented to in the National Assembly. We are grateful to all who have used various media or platform to reach out to people and created  awareness about it.  Information at the grass root through radio, community  mobilisation and community engagement have done a lot of that and we also have  what we call the Journalism Fellowship where we have  selected journalists form across the country who disseminate or publish that information even down to local dialects because we  even have publicity videos that talk in different dialects and pidgin English. So, we try as much as we can to disseminate this information at all levels, but again like I said it is a collaboratory effort; so we are calling on people who have larger platforms and resources to  reach people more. we are available to partner with   anybody as much as possible.

What is the impact of the advocacy so far?
Research has shown that it affects women much more than it affects men, but given the society in which we live, these days you have men who go to the market for  shopping and also determine  what is eaten at home though we have a high percentage of women who shop for their houses and also determine what is prepared at home and how it is being prepared. That is where the role of the woman comes in. First of all, we need to be aware that there is a problem. When you go  for shopping, you need to be  sure of what you are buying. You need to read labels although if the label really represents the content of the  product is a totally different impression, but let us  assume that the label is truly  a representative of what is in the product, but as a woman,  when you go to the market, you need to check what you are buying. If you want to buy oil or any product, you need  to  check the label to see the  content of sugar, salt, fat and even what type of fat, the percentage and also determine what you should buy and bring home. We also know that a lot of people eat outside, but you really  cannot control what you eat out there. Now, we are not  trying to spoil people’s businesses but until there is  a regulation or a law that  monitors what is sold out there, the campaign cannot be complete. I will say eat more at home because you can actually control what your family eat. When you go to a restaurant, for example, you eat fried chips and Irish potatoes that are so crispy, but at home, it is not crispy then you keep wondering  what are you doing differently. No! there is  something that they are doing differently and the  process of coming up with that crispy feeling actually generates what is potentially harmful to the body. So as a woman, eat less outside; eat more at home and control  what you eat at home. As a woman, you can actually unknowilling poison your family at home without knowing it; for instance, the process of bleaching the  palm oil you want to use to cook, but you don’t want it to have that red colour is harmful to your family. Also, the vegetable oil you used to  fry chicken today, tomorrow  you use it to fry chips, next  tomorrow you use that same oil to fry plantain and then you keep frying until the oil becomes really dark generates partially hydrogenated oil. As a woman, you have a lot of role to play. Ensure that you do not promote the problem right in your home and then  you join everyone to advocate it because it affects the woman most because we determine what is being prepared for our  families. In that regards, it affects the women a lot more; so, it is important to put that into consideration as we go about our daily lives.
So how do we reduce cardiovascular death? There must be regulatory standard. First of all, change your behaviour. Don’t refry with the same oil. Be sure of what you’re buying from fast food joints. Yes, it is good but to be honest how is it possible to get everybody in  Nigeria to stop doing that?  Therefore, behavioural changes is good but how sustainable is it in Nigeria? You know most times people  are caught in traffic tired; by the time there are coming back home, all they do is  just to stop at a fast food joint or buy akara balls on their way home. That is why we are calling for the promotion of regulatory standard. I keep saying what if as a Nigerian, I don’t have to be concerned about the oil I am buying either in the supermarket or in the market is healthy, if I don’t have to be concerned about the restaurant that I like eating whether my food is prepared in a healthy way. You know all those cannot be achieved if we don’t have the right regulatory body in place to regulate all the activities of those involved in the chain up to the importers.

What is the extent of synergy between GHAI and Nigerian government? 
The Nigerian government  has shown a lot of tremendous interest and goodwill in tackling this issue through the Federal Ministry of Health and NAFDAC. They have all been committed to tackling the problem headlong. The problems has to do with  many competing priorities and bureaucracies. The  process started in 2018 and  now we are in 2022. It has  gone through many stages of approval, but it has not been passed by the National Assembly. Many countries have passed the regulations  into law. We are urging the National Assembly to  expedite action and quickly pass it into law. It’s very  important and would save a lot of life among women and would break a lot of bias  against women.

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