When I got the invite to participate at the virtual launch of the REPLACE global report hosted by the World Health Organisation (WHO), my mind raced in different directions. Why? Many would wonder. Simply put, since I joined the Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA) volunteer’s programme, I have engaged various digital channels daily to sensitise, educate, support, collaborate, and urge the government of Nigeria to do the needful regarding trans-fat oil in our food system.
I knew from the invitation that the WHO report would showcase the efforts of countries and gains of the campaign at a global level and, as a Nigerian who has invested time and other resources to the campaign in my best way, I hoped to see something positive, no matter how small about Nigeria.
While it is not yet Uhuru, I am aware that we have made gains – farther away from having the draft regulations published on the internet for comments from the public in the early part of 2020. From there, we went to the dark silence occasioned by the pandemic. Regardless of the troubles, the true spirit of the average Nigerian prevailed. We kept going on – we had the social media to thank for amplifying our voices; helping us get to a wider audience, pushing further forward for a reason to drive home our points, sensitising the public, and rallying more people to support the agencies empowered by the laws of the land to regulate what we eat.
The REPLACE report, in its 3rd year, is WHO compendium of progress made in the elimination of industrially produced trans-fatty acids in the global food supply as it has the target of eliminating trans-fat by 2023. The REPLACE action package sets the framework for countries of the world to adopt and adapt for their efforts to save more people from the harms caused by the consumption of trans-fat.
Trans-fats are unsaturated fats that are harmful to the body. Industrially produced trans -fat intake is a risk factor for coronary heart disease and mortality. The naturally occurring trans-fats are found in ruminants while the artificially produced trans-fat are created through the process of partial hydrogenation of oils. When oils are passed through hydrogen to form semi solid, to increase their shelf life and sensory feel, they become toxic and dangerous for the body as the body system is not built to process them efficiently.
Using the REPLACE action package, the WHO seeks to remove all industrially produced trans-fatty acids in the world with its six strategic action areas to support prompt, complete, and sustained elimination rather than what have been recorded in many countries using systemic policy change prior to 2018.
As a concerned Nigerian, it is becoming worrisome that Nigeria seems to be taking a slow approach to this menace. While I mentioned earlier that the pandemic slowed down government agencies on their task, the pandemic itself presented a clear and strong argument for a quick elimination of trans-fat. Many of the fatalities due to covid19 were with existing health issues, majorly coronary heart and industrially produced TFAs are risk factors for heart diseases. This, in no small measure, should push the government to take faster action.
It is unfortunate that despite all efforts, Nigeria missed being recorded in this year’s global report among countries with existing TFA regulation, implying that the government needs to do more and faster too. The world hopes to eliminate trans-fat by 2023 and going by the recent global report Nigeria is on the backfoot.
It is then imperative for the federal government to move faster than light as we cannot afford to lag at the detriment of public health. The government must also realise that it owes her citizens the right to life, quality, and affordable food, and ultimately, a quality health system.
The Federal Government through the office of the Minister of Health needs to promptly gazette the Fats and Oils Regulations approved by the National Agency for Food Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) Governing Council. This certainly would be a better gift for Nigerians as they prepare for a trans-fat free New Year ahead.
By Dorcas Samuel, Ado, Nasarawa State