The effects of long term exposure to aflatoxins in humans are well documented and include damage to body organs such as the liver and suppression of the immune system, which increases the frequency of other health disorders (Williams et al., 2004). Cases of acute tox-icity have been reported and these often have been exacerbated by limited availability of food supplies, e.g., in the drought-stricken areas of Kenya where in 2004 over 100 people died from consuming aflatoxin-contaminated maize meals, the major cereal in African diets (Azziz-Baumgartner et al., 2005). Additional cases also were reported in 2005. High concentrations of aflatoxin in maize also were reported in Nigeria, Ghana and several other West African countries (Kpodo and Bankole, Chapter 9).
Millions of children in Africa suffer from acute or chronic aflatoxicity, which often results in lowered immunity, low birth weight, stunted growth and even death (Wojnowski et al., 2004). Studies conducted in Togo and Benin showed that 99% of 480 children aged between 9 months and 5 years had high concentrations of an aflatoxin-adduct in the blood (Gong et al., 2002). Growth of children in high aflatoxin exposure areas was stunted compared to that observed in low-exposure areas (Gong et al., 2004). In all cases, white maize and/or peanuts were used as the weaning food. According to the United Nations Children's Fund, one in every five West and Central African children dies before reaching the age of five. The under-five mortality rate is 97/1000 in Ghana, 156/1000 in Benin, and 141/1000 in Togo, all countries where maize and/or peanuts are used as a weaning food (UNICEF, 2004). Small-scale peasant farmers in Africa face the problem of not producing enough food and therefore experience limited availability of food supply in terms of both quality and quantity. Due to market demand for better grain quality to fetch good prices, the best quality grain often is sold in the markets while shriveled, molded and damaged grains are retained for home consumption, incorporated into livestock feed, or sold to low-income groups in urban or rural markets. This practice increases the risk of aflatoxin exposure by local human and livestock populations with all of the accompanying health implications.
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