Enhancing human nutrition and reducing risks to human health
Enhancing human nutrition and reducing risks to human health
The global health emergency caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on people across the world. It has never been more important to focus on human health and the food system to address factors that limit access to nutritious foods.
Emerging zoonotic diseases threaten human and animal health, economic development and the environment. In addition, a range of plant and animal diseases and plant pests continue to threaten food security. Many countries also face the ‘triple burden’ of malnutrition: the coexistence of food insecurity, micronutrient deficiency and obesity and associated diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.
ACIAR supports partner countries to not only increase agricultural production but also focus on better nutritional outcomes and address risks to human health through diseases linked to livestock, agrichemical use and food safety issues. In 2019, we strengthened our technical expertise by recruiting a Nutrition-Sensitive Agriculture Advisor to provide nutrition and food security advice, develop key products on nutrition-sensitive agriculture in the Indo-Pacific region, and work towards achieving more sustainable food systems for healthier and more nutritious diets.
We partner with leading Australian research institutions to invest in programs that:
ACIAR launched a new regional One Health research program to help address the growing rate of zoonotic diseases across South-East Asia and the Pacific region. The three-year, $10.2 million program is co-funded with DFAT’s Indo-Pacific Centre for Health Security. It brings together leading Australian researchers and regional counterparts to address issues at the critical interface between people, animals and the environment. The research will address zoonotic malaria in Indonesia, antimicrobial resistance in Fiji, extrapulmonary tuberculosis and zoonotic arboviruses in Papua New Guinea, and highly pathogenic avian influenza policies and implementation in Cambodia, Laos PDR and Vietnam.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, innovations to improve nutrition security have become more urgent. ACIAR is investing in the NutriFish project to harness the nutrients of underused fish-based products to address nutritional deficiencies in Uganda’s poor communities. In response to COVID-19, the project fast-tracked the development of a maize flour enriched with nutritious silver fish and amaranth seeds. More than 2.5 tonnes of the flour was distributed to breastfeeding mothers, reducing the incidence of micronutrient deficiencies in children under five years of age.
Fiji’s population suffers the highest rates of diabetes in the world. Unhealthy diets, lifestyles and environment are key risk factors that contribute to this burden of malnutrition. In rural households that sell vegetables for income, fresh food consumption is worryingly low, despite these communities being directly involved in food production. ACIAR is collaborating to encourage a return to traditional food production and consumption by delivering workshops that tackle diabetes and cardiovascular disease in farming villages. These workshops educate local farmers on how to avoid common but preventable diseases by including a wide range of fruits and vegetables grown on the farm into their daily household diet.
Pork is the most popular source of meat in Vietnam, but one in five people become sick every year due to pork-borne salmonella. ACIAR is supporting research to improve food safety in wet markets and safeguard livelihoods across the pork sector. The SafePORK project has developed a Food Safety Performance Tool to better inform interventions at critical control points, including inexpensive tests to detect foodborne pathogens and training for traders in the wet markets. The tool will ensure a consistent approach to risk assessments in wet and informal market systems and is relevant across east Asia.
A new project was launched in December 2019 to improve common bean varieties that have shorter cooking times and provide higher protein and increased micronutrients (such as iron and zinc). These bean varieties will promote better health and nutrition for women and children in Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda. The project will apply innovative rapid methods of variety selection that have never been applied to bean breeding before. Through the collaborative research between scientists in Australia and eastern Africa, the project aims to reduce the cooking time of common beans by at least 30%.
Fiji has led the Pacific island nations in embracing a One Health approach to the emerging problem of diseases that are resistant to standard antimicrobial drugs. Fiji is now partnering with Australia to put its antimicrobial action plan into practice.
Dr Walter Okelo, a CSIRO researcher, is leading the project, which aims to help Fiji sustainably manage the growing threat of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in its hospitals, farms, local communities, waterways and environment.
One of the first tasks for Dr Okelo’s team is to address the lack of reliable baseline surveillance data on AMR and antimicrobial use in Fiji.
‘At the moment, no-one knows the magnitude of the problem because there is little research that has been done to date,’ said Dr Okelo. ‘What we’re trying to do is rebalance things—push the animal health and environment side along fairly quickly so they are on a par with the human health side in terms of disease detection and response.’
The team is working with researchers at the Fiji National University and the University of the South Pacific to build local capacity in both diagnostics and the collection and analysis of AMR data. This will allow researchers to better map AMR hotspots, determine how AMR spreads and its economic impact, and predict where and when outbreaks might occur.
Eventually, this information will help Fiji’s policymakers prepare for future outbreaks—for example, by educating doctors and pharmacists to take a more considered ‘antimicrobial stewardship’ approach to prescribing antibiotics or by educating the community to use antibiotics more judiciously in livestock production systems.
This co-funded ACIAR and DFAT project will involve some innovative research, including partnering with Australian-based XING Technologies to develop bioengineering and nanotechnology laboratory diagnostic tools to boost Fiji’s diagnostic and testing capacity.
It will also help fill gaps in the implementation of Fiji’s One Health action plan, enabling the agricultural and environmental systems to catch up with the human health system.