Almost a year ago I wrote a short post highlighting the work of the FERG (Foodborne Disease Burden Epidemiology Reference Group) at the WHO. The FERG is aiming to properly assess the global burden of foodborne diseases, including those due to chemical contamination as well as diseases caused by bacteria, viruses and parasites. The FERG is now calling for applications from countries to participate in piloting the foodborne burden of disease protocol.
Pilot studies will be carried out in participating countries (with no focus on attribution, or DALY calculations). However, participating in a pilot study will not preclude a country from being part of a full study later, according to Professor Niko Speybroeck, chair of the country studies taskforce in the FERG.
He told me that ‘The pilot studies will involve close cooperation between scientists in the country and WHO and its expert group and represent a learning process for both. Existing burden of foodborne disease studies have been carried out in countries with extensive vital registration data and human health surveillance systems. One of the aims of the WHO FERG Country Studies Task Force is to fill data gaps for the global FERG estimates.’
He further indicated that ‘Carrying out pilot studies will enable the finalization of protocols for extrapolating or interpolating information from multiple sources e.g.data from other countries in the region, proxy indicators. The pilot studies will also be about process. At present the plan is to convene an initial workshop to set out the workplan and engage with participants. Finding the right communication channels, developing realistic timelines, establishing the roles of collaborators, are amongst the topics that will need to be sorted out.’
The WHO with its expert group the FERG is intending to foster the uptake of the outputs of burden of disease studies by policy- and decision-makers to strengthen evidence-informed food safety policy-making and practice.