Our children are the most vulnerable people in our society. In their storybooks they are in constant danger from wicked fairies and big bad monsters, waiting to trick them and carry them off. Aflatoxin is no different, finding the easiest prey in small, developing bodies. It harms children’s growth, development and immunity to diseases.
- During pregnancy, aflatoxin is able to cross the placenta and reach the foetus. It is linked to low birthweight in babies. In Kenya, three-quarters of newborns have already been exposed to the toxin.
- Babies begin to consume aflatoxin the moment they are born. Of breastmilk samples from Tanzanian mothers, over 90% had aflatoxin levels over the safe limit for infant foods.
- Weaning only increases babies’ toxin exposure, as many of the foods we give to infants to nourish them, such as maize, groundnuts and milk, are prone to aflatoxin contamination.
By the time they are toddlers, few African children have escaped aflatoxin. In Tanzania, one study found that 84% of babies had been exposed to the toxin at six months old, reaching 99% by their first birthday. Meanwhile in Uganda, 96% of babies and children under three have signs of aflatoxin in their systems.
These little ones are at the beginning of their journeys, and some as yet have accumulated only harmless amounts of aflatoxin. However, higher levels of toxin are clearly linked to stunted growth, nutrient deficiencies, and other indicators of poor child health.