Businessman Phillip Sibia queues to return processed meat amid the listeriosis outbreak. Picture: ALAISTER RUSSELL
Businessman Phillip Sibia queues to return processed meat amid the listeriosis outbreak. Picture: ALAISTER RUSSELL

SA’s fight against the deadly listeriosis outbreak received a shot in the arm on Monday when the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced it had increased technical support to help contain the disease.

The WHO’s increased support was in line with international health regulations and "the recommendations to fill in the gaps identified through joint external evaluation", the Department of Health said.

Following the Southern African Development Community health ministers meeting, the WHO, in consultation with the South African government, agreed to increase its support to the response effort.

"This is in keeping with provisions of the international health regulations to ensure that there is outbreak containment while limiting disruption to trade. This is important given that some countries had imposed trade bans contrary to WHO recommendations regarding this outbreak," the department said.

"This increased support by WHO is very much [welcomed] by the ministry of health and the government of SA."

The WHO had enlisted a technical team of epidemiologists, food safety experts and risk communication specialists to support the response. The team would continue working with the existing multisectoral team, which included the departments of health, agriculture and trade and industry.

The outbreak is the worst in recorded history and has been responsible for at least 185 deaths since January 2017, the Department of Health says.

In March, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi announced that polony and other products from an Enterprise Foods factory in Polokwane‚ Limpopo‚ had been found to have been the source of the world’s largest outbreak of listeriosis.

Motsoaledi said listeria had been traced to another Enterprise facility in Germiston on the East Rand, and a Rainbow chicken facility in the Free State, but further tests were needed.

This prompted the National Consumer Commission to order product recalls.​

*This story has been amended and previously incorrectly stated that the National Institute for Communicable Diseases identified Listeria monocytogenes, the bacterium that causes listeriosis, in ready-to-eat processed meats made by Tiger Brands and RCL Foods.