MUHAS to examine substances in local margarines, fast foods

23Nov 2019
Henry Mwangonde
Dar es Salaam
The Guardian
MUHAS to examine substances in local margarines, fast foods

THE Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences (MUHAS) has received a grant worth USD 80,000 (over 180m/-) to address the dangers of trans-fat exposure in Tanzania.

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Trans fat is an unhealthy substance that is made through the chemical process of hydrogenation of oils. Hydrogenation solidifies liquid oils and increases the shelf life and the flavor stability of oils and foods that contain them.

They are found in vegetable shortening and in some margarines, crackers, cookies, and snack foods. Trans fatty acids raise the 'bad' (LDL) cholesterol and lower the 'good' (HDL) cholesterol levels in blood, thus increasing the risk of heart disease.

The study will be implemented in two years and MUHAS is expected to conduct the first-ever assessment of levels of harmful trans fats in local street foods, fast foods and edible oils.

The grant programme, part of the LINKS platform that connects people working to improve cardiovascular health around the world, is funded by Resolve to Save Lives, an initiative of Vital Strategies and managed by Resolve along with the World Health Organization (WHO) and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through the CDC Foundation.

Speaking in an interview on the matter yesterday Dr Fredrick Mashili, a lecturer and research officer at the East African Center of Excellence in Cardiovascular Sciences, said the grant will allow researchers to leverage on policy and practice towards the prevention and control of cardiovascular diseases.

“In my community, cardiovascular diseases are increasingly common, including life threatening complications like stroke and heart failure, thus knowing amount of trans fats in Tanzanian foods will help guide the community for better and healthier choices, spurring policy action towards reducing trans fats in the local food chain,” he explained.

Trans fats cause heart attack and stroke and were estimated to cause more than 540,000 deaths a year worldwide.

A recent analysis concluded that eliminating trans fats from the global food supply could save 17 million lives over 25 years.

This second round of grant funding will support government and civil society organizations working in 18 countries, namely Armenia, Azerbaijan, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Georgia, Haiti, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Malaysia, Mongolia, Nigeria, Pakistan, South Africa, Tanzania, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

Funded programs include a patient-centered hypertension screening and treatment program in Pakistan, monitoring South Africa’s sodium reduction laws, and advocacy for effective regulation of trans fats in Kenya.

The move comes just weeks after the government launched a national plan to contain alarming rise of non communicable diseases (NCDs).

The plan includes key components of health education along with the prevention and treatment of NCDs.

The increase in NCDs was a sign of a health system failure in the first place as the cost of treating patients poses challenges as it takes a long time.

The main approach in the plan is to collect have data in the first phase of implementation, like establishing the number of cancer cases and other aspects for proper intervention.