Zim must regulate all imports

HARARE - The outbreak of the world’s worst Listeria will serve as a wake-up call to authorities in Zimbabwe as the country has continued as a dumping ground for mostly cheap imports, especially food stuffs and drugs, from other countries.

Listeria, which causes flu-like symptoms, nausea, diarrhoea and infection of the blood stream and brain, has killed 180 people in the past year.

According to officials, Listeriosis is a rare food-borne disease that is spread by consumption of foods contaminated by the bacteria Listeria monocytogenes.

The disease can also be spread from one person who is sick to others by sharing food or through contact.

In neighbouring South Africa, there was frenzied clearing and cleaning of shelves by supermarket chains Shoprite, Pick n Pay, Spar and Woolworths, which also urged consumers to return the meats for refunds.

Sadly for Zimbabwe, these cheap meat product imports mainly flood the informal market which is very difficult to regulate.

Sadly, these products are mainly bought by ordinary people who find lower prices an incentive for them to opt for the informal market.

With the police acknowledging that there is a limit to what they can do due to the absence of a legal framework to enforce a government ban on the importation of cold meats from South Africa, it implies that Zimbabwe is heavily exposed to the food-borne ailment.

A story in a top-selling daily quoted a senior Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) officer — who preferred anonymity — saying government needed to draft a Statutory Instrument to enable law enforcement agents to assist with the ban of cold meats from South Africa.

This latest dilemma has also shown the country’s state of preparedness in the event of emergencies like this. Zimbabwe has a large section of the population that thrives on informal trading, meaning that means other than legal may not be enough to tackle the latest challenge.

These Zimbabweans, most of whom are without jobs — in a country with an over 80 percent unemployment rate — have families to feed. There is no way they can accept the ban on moral grounds despite the public health dangers the importation may bring. For them, it is their livelihoods that will be at stake.

For years, Zimbabwe has grappled with counterfeit products that have flooded the informal market.

Some formal shops have taken advantage of the laxity in the regulatory framework and the country’s porous borders to smuggle a wide range of medicinal drugs, an array of sex pills, skin lightening creams, bath soaps and lotions among other commodities by circumventing controls imposed by the Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe.

Some of these drugs and lotions may have serious side effects but sadly, no competent body has subjected them to any rigorous tests. 

The major determining factor for the Zimbabwean consumer is the price, which they consider ahead of all the possible risks the products may pose on their health.

It is important, however, for authorities to educate the Zimbabwean public on the risks some of these counterfeit products may pose.

Meanwhile, authorities must think beyond political expediency and ensure products that are dangerous to people’s health are never allowed through the country’s borders. Putting up effective regulatory and legislative frameworks that act as safeguards for the unsuspecting customers is mandatory.

In addition, clear regulations would also empower law enforcement agents to deal with contravention of the same.

Zimbabwe let things go unwatched for too long as politics played centre-stage while all other facets of the country’s life were left to drift down the drain, uncontrolled. Trying to right these wrongs now appears insensitive to those who view it as their only source of a livelihood.

All the same, something has to be done, and urgently too, to get things back to normal thereby minimising the risk of the disease among the country’s population.

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