New study quantifies aflatoxin exposure in Kenya

Aflatoxin infected maize
Aflatoxin infected maize. Findings of a new research study suggest that aflatoxin exposure is a public health problem throughout Kenya.  (Photo: IITA)

In the past few weeks, I’ve been doing some reading on aflatoxins to keep myself updated with recent research on this subject, with a particular focus on Kenya.

I came across a recent study on human aflatoxin exposure in Kenya carried out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Kenya Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation.

The study aimed at assessing aflatoxin exposure throughout the entire country. Most of the previous outbreaks of aflatoxicosis in Kenya occurred in Kenya’s Eastern Province, but since there is no national aflatoxin surveillance, it was not known if aflatoxicosis outbreaks were limited to that region or if they occur in other regions of the country. The study also sought to find out if aflatoxin exposure varied by demographic, socioeconomic and ecological factors.

From analysis of aflatoxin levels in serum specimens from the 2007 Kenya AIDS Indicator survey — a nationally representative, cross-sectional survey — aflatoxin B1 was detected in 78% of the specimens.

Aflatoxin exposure did not vary by sex, age group, religion, marital status or socioeconomic characteristics. However, exposure to aflatoxin varied by province, with the highest levels recorded in Eastern and Coast provinces and the lowest in Nyanza and Rift Valley provinces.

The bottom line is that human exposure to aflatoxin across Kenya can be considered to be a public health problem, in light of the widespread exposure levels that cut across the spectrum of age, sex and socioeconomic status. All the more reason for increased education and awareness on this public health risk and the practical steps that can be taken to control it.

In this Business Daily article on the persistent problem of aflatoxin contamination in maize in Kenya (published 27 Oct 2013),  I found out that some researchers at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) are carrying out studies on the susceptibility of maize varieties to aflatoxin so that they can breed aflatoxin-resistant varieties. I think that would be a great leap forward in the fight against aflatoxin contamination in the country.