Home Health Recent Raw Meat Fad Poses Public Health Threats in Ethiopia

Recent Raw Meat Fad Poses Public Health Threats in Ethiopia

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By Shimels Hussien (PhD)

Ethiopia faces an unspoken but concerning public health issue: the consumption of raw meat. Traditionally practiced, this custom has recently been misinterpreted and wrongly promoted on social and public media as a sign of modernity and sophistication, particularly among the urban elites. Despite its romanticized portrayal on social media and even high-end restaurants, the reality is far bleaker. A number of researches recently done in Ethiopia have identified a troubling prevalence of harmful bacteria, parasites, and zoonotic diseases in uncooked meat. This widespread and miss informed trend poses a potential public health challenge. Thus, it’s critical to debunk the myth that consuming raw meat signifies anything positive. Public health initiatives should be installed to discourage this unsafe dietary practice and safeguard the well-being of Ethiopians before this trend turns into a major food safety issue.

The Cultural Debate: Tradition vs. Health

Some argue that the consumption of raw meat is a cultural practice that needs to be preserved. While it is true that culture and tradition are vital aspects of any society, not all traditions are worth maintaining, especially when they pose significant health risks. Harmful practices such as female genital mutilation, uvuloctomy, and abduction marriage have rightly been challenged and are now disappearing. Thanks to the repeated advocacy and awareness creation efforts in the last 2 decades by the government and international organizations, these harmful traditions are being replaced with practices that are safe and align with current health standards.

Similarly, the practice of consuming raw meat needs to be re-evaluated. The World Health Organization and Ethiopia’s 2022 national food safety guidelines clearly recommend against eating raw meat due to the severe health risks involved. Yet, the practice remains largely untouched. It’s time to act decisively on this issue to protect public health.

Kurt, strips of raw beef (Photo: Courtesy of Author)

Dangerous Bacteria Lurking in Raw Meat

While some might think raw meat as a safe food, the reality is far less glamorous. Common culprits like Escherichia coli O157:H7, a silent killer notorious for causing severe stomach illness, have been found lurking in cattle feces and even on carcasses within Ethiopian abattoirs and butcher shops. A 2017 study by Atnafie et al. uncovered alarming levels of this pathogen, highlighting the urgent need for stricter hygiene practices throughout the meat processing chain. Staphylococcus aureus, another unwelcome guest, can also be found lurking in raw meat. This bacterium has the unwelcome ability to produce dangerous enterotoxins—essentially toxins that can trigger a nasty case of food poisoning. Research by Haghi et al. in 2021 showed a high prevalence of these toxin-producing bacteria in food samples, posing a significant risk to those who consume raw meat.

Parasites in Raw Meat

The dangers extend beyond bacterial foes. Parasites like Toxoplasma gondii, the culprit behind toxoplasmosis, pose a significant threat, especially to pregnant women and immune compromised individuals. A 2013 study by Gebremedhin et al. found a staggering 81.4% of women of child-bearing age in central Ethiopia testing positive for T. gondii antibodies. This infection can lead to miscarriages and birth defects, making the consumption of raw meat a perilous choice for expecting mothers. These parasites can also cause many other severe infections that can affect vital organs, making the trend of consuming raw uncooked meats hazardous.

Zoonotic Diseases

The risk extends beyond individual consumers. Workers in abattoirs and butcher shops, who are frequently exposed to raw meat, face a heightened threat of contracting zoonotic diseases—illnesses that can jump from animals to humans. Bovine tuberculosis, for example, can be transmitted from infected cattle to humans. A 2018 study by Fekadu et al. highlighted the dire conditions and lack of protective measures among these workers, emphasizing the need for urgent interventions to prevent a potential outbreak. Salmonella and Shigella, infamous for causing foodborne illnesses, have also been found in high prevalence among both adults and children suffering from diarrhea in Ethiopia. A 2024 study by Muse underlines the critical need for improved food safety practices to combat these preventable illnesses. 

A Call to Action

The rampant consumption of raw meat in Ethiopia is not just a cultural fad but a public health challenge in the making. To mitigate these risks, several measures must be implemented including the followings:

  1. Public Awareness Campaigns: Educating the public about the dangers of raw meat consumption and promoting safe food handling practices is crucial. These campaigns should leverage social media, public media, community meetings, and school programs to reach a broad audience.
  2. Antenatal Screening Programs: Screening pregnant women for T. gondii and other infections can help prevent congenital transmission. Pregnant women should be given clear guidelines on avoiding raw meat and other risky foods.
  3. Enhanced Hygiene Standards: Implementing stringent hygiene practices in abattoirs and butcher shops is essential to reduce contamination. This includes regular inspections, proper sanitation protocols, and training for workers on food safety.
  4. Strict Regulatory Oversight: Enforcing robust food safety regulations is necessary to ensure the quality and safety of meat products in the market. Authorities should regularly monitor meat processing facilities and enforce penalties for non-compliance.

Conclusion

What may be seen as fancy, modern and a trendy display of status is, in reality, a health hazard. The consumption of raw meat carries significant risks that can no longer be ignored. Immediate action is required to protect the health and well-being of the population from these hidden dangers. Let’s prioritize safety over fad and ensure a healthier future for all Ethiopians. By addressing this issue head-on, we can prevent a potential health threat and safeguard the lives of countless individuals.

Dr. Shimels Hussien is Ass. Professor of Public Health at St. Paul Hospital’s Millennium Medical College, Addis Ababa.  He can be reached at: shimelsh@gmail.com 

Editor’s note : Views in the article do not necessarily reflect the views of borkena.com

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6 COMMENTS

  1. Consuming raw meat in any variety could be playing with serious health risks including death. Even in countries where there are the strictest sanitary laws, we are accustomed to hear the discovery of deadly pathogens in raw and also processed food items. I’m speaking from personal experience. I never ate raw meat but at one occasion during a factory visit in Mexico, I had salad with fresh vegetables during lunch and after an hour or so I was suddenly very sick. I thought I was to die from it. I rushed back home and was hospitalized. I was extremely lucky to recover. Since then raw food in any variety except fruit is a no go with me. Legumes such as peanuts, cashews and pecans are my favorite snacks but I double toast them before consuming. When traveling overseas or on vacations here in the USA, it has been ‘well done’ for me. It was salad that made me gravely sick but imagine if it was raw meat. So, be careful my dear countrymen/women.

    Excellent advice by the dear brother writer.

  2. Spot on, Ittu and the author! Promoting raw meat as safe in Ethiopia is dangerous and stuck in the past. Just visited Addis Ababa and Arbaminch last January. I was socially pressured to eat raw meat (kitfo and kurt). I had to visit Washing hospital because I ended up with parasites and a long worm (Koso). My wife was also sick after eating raw meat at Sodo Town wolaita. Raw meat deserves banning, even if it clashes with our tradition. Harmful practices need to be replaced with healthier ones. Kudos to the author for exposing this hidden health hazard!

    • Excellent advice. I hope we all will take a break from preaching destructive politics and teach us how to live a healthy life. Pathogens are every where now including those proven to be deadly. Those that used to be further away from humans are getting closer and closer as wildlife refuge is slowly overtaken by mankind. In such cases cooking food thoroughly and washing hands frequently will help protecting us from deadly parasites. Our health experts should start posting articles to help us live a healthy life on this esteemed website and others.

  3. “The animals – eat share this planet with us. We are all surrounded by an amazing diversity of uncountable microbes, some of which may be shared at mealtimes. A tempting piece of raw meat, therefore, requires elaborate checking. Has it any prions, viruses, bacteria, fungi or parasites?

    Although many of these critters are harmless, some are quite lethal unless treated. Some, such as prion-linked brain diseases, cannot be treated. And some will treat us as their food. If that steak is venison from your recent hunt, its pathogens will be different compared to a farm-reared steer.

    The bacteria Escherichia coli, for example, were thought harmless when described in 1885. Up to 50% of healthy cattle may carry E. coli 0157. These are resistant to our stomach acid; their Shiga toxins can cause kidney failure, shock and death.
    Beef can be contaminated with Toxoplasmosis gondii, a protozoal parasite from cats that happily survives in cattle and humans. Toxoplasmosis tends to find its way into the brain, retina, heart muscle or cross the placenta, where it can damage the foetal brain.
    We asked food safety expert Jeff Nelken about whether eating beef tartare or sashimi is all that dangerous.

    “Considering that raw meat has all sorts of bacteria in it, you’re kind of playing Russian roulette,” he explains.
    Although there are no proven advantages to eating raw meat, there are great microbial hazards. (Feeding your pets raw meat has similar risks.) Not only is there a risk of being infected with Campylobacters and Salmonellas, but also parasites such as roundworms and tapeworms.
    The research team suggest that unprocessed red meat and processed meat may increase the risk of ischaemic heart disease because they are major dietary sources of saturated fatty acids. These can increase low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, an established risk factor for ischaemic heart disease.
    Regular meat consumption is associated with a range of diseases that researchers had not previously considered, according to a large, population-level study conducted by a team at the University of Oxford.
    Red and processed meat intakes were associated with modest increases in total mortality, cancer mortality and CVD mortality.
    Meat consumption raises mortality rates, analysis of more than 1. 5 million people finds
    Death rates higher when red and processed meats are eaten daily, according to reviewers
    All-cause mortality is higher for those who eat meat, particularly red or processed meat, on a daily basis, a review of large-scale studies involving more than 1.5 million people has found.
    Source: Theconversationdotcom , oxdotacdotuk, menshealthdotcom, National Library of Medicine(NLM),sciencedailydotcom

    • Excellent advice. I hope we all will take a break from preaching destructive politics and teach us how to live a healthy life. Pathogens are every where now including those proven to be deadly. Those that used to be further away from humans are getting closer and closer as wildlife refuge is slowly overtaken by mankind. In such cases cooking food thoroughly and washing hands frequently will help protecting us from deadly parasites. Our health experts should start posting articles to help us live a healthy life on this esteemed website and others.

  4. ጥሬ ሥጋ መብላት በእርግጥ ኋላ ቀር እና ጤናማ ያልሆነ ነው። እኔ የማውቀው የቶክሶ በሽታ ስላጋጠመኝ ከባድ ችግር ስለፈጠረብኝ። ማህበራዊ ሚዲያው በጣም አስፈሪ ነው። በማህበራዊ ድረ-ገጾች ላይ ምንም እውቀት የሌላቸው ሰዎች የጥሬ ስጋን ቪዲዮ እና ምስሎችን እንደ ጥሩ አመጋገብ እያሰራጩ ነው::

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