PREVENTION: Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi wants more powers to tackle deadly disease outbreaks such as listeriosis.

JOHANNESBURG - Members countries of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) on Thursday, committed to enhance public awareness and food control systems to contain the deadly listeriosis bacteria outbreak in South Africa.

These measures includes combating possible smuggling of products from South Africa to neighbouring countries through borders. Border policing and the Department of Home Affairs would have to be on alert, said South Africa's Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi.

The 15 countries' health ministers and ambassadors met in Kempton Park, east of Johannesburg to come up with measures to combat listeria disease that has so far claimed 183 lives in South Africa. Namibia is the only second SADC country after South Africa to have a case of listeria after a 41-year-old man was diagnosed with the disease this week. He was being treated in a hospital in the capital Windhoek.

The patient's blood samples were sent from Windhoek to the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) in Johannesburg for testing, after which it was confirmed that the Namibian male patient contracted listeriosis, said Motsoaledi.

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Following the tracing of the listeriosis source, the National Consumer Council (NCC) met with Enterprise and Rainbow product producers and asked them for information regarding their distribution network and export countries, said Motsoaledi.

"The recall of products in neighbouring countries is the responsibility of the companies and not the countries. We have strongly advised ministers here to discourage citizens in their countries from disposing the products themselves, because there is a danger in that. The products should be brought back here in South Africa to be disposed in a scientific manner as agreed with South Africa's minister of environmental affairs," Motsoaledi said.

Although the remaining 13 countries said there has not been any reported cases of listeria in their respective countries, there could be such cases as it is not easy to detect the bacteria. Motsoaledi said health ministries have been advised to inform their respective health practitioners to be on high alert for possible listeriosis cases. 

Neighbouring Zimbabwe's Minister of Health, Pagwesese David Parirenyatwa said his country does not import South Africa's Enterprise and Rainbow products.

"We have no cases of Listeria because our supermarkets do not import those brands, but because we are just across the border, there could be some of the products passing through into Zimbabwe, so we need to be vigilant on that," said Parirenyatwa. 

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) ambassador B Mpoko said his country does not import the products either.

In the case of Mozambique, senior official R Marlene cautioned that there could be cases in her country because there was no capacity to detect such.

''Mozambique imports South African products, and I think we have to work harder and put measures to double up our efforts and contain listeriosis throughout the country. We do not have the technical capacity that South Africa has unfortunately.''

African News Agency/ANA