Background: Aflatoxins are fungal metabolites that frequently contaminate staple foods in much of sub-Saharan Africa, and are associated with increased risk of liver cancer and impaired growth in young children. We aimed to assess whether postharvest measures to restrict aflatoxin contamination of groundnut crops could reduce exposure in west African villages.
Methods: We undertook an intervention study at subsistence farms in the lower Kindia region of Guinea. Farms from 20 villages were included, ten of which implemented a package of postharvest measures to restrict aflatoxin contamination of the groundnut crop; ten controls followed usual postharvest practices. We measured the concentrations of blood aflatoxin-albumin adducts from 600 people immediately after harvest and at 3 months and 5 months postharvest to monitor the effectiveness of the intervention.
Findings: In control villages mean aflatoxin-albumin concentration increased postharvest (from 5.5 pg/mg [95% CI 4.7-6.1] immediately after harvest to 18.7 pg/mg [17.0-20.6] 5 months later). By contrast, mean aflatoxin-albumin concentration in intervention villages after 5 months of groundnut storage was much the same as that immediately postharvest (7.2 pg/mg [6.2-8.4] vs 8.0 pg/mg [7.0-9.2]). At 5 months, mean adduct concentration in intervention villages was less than 50% of that in control villages (8.0 pg/mg [7.2-9.2] vs 18.7 pg/mg [17.0-20.6], p<0.0001). About a third of the number of people had non-detectable aflatoxin-albumin concentrations at harvest. At 5 months, five (2%) people in the control villages had non-detectable adduct concentrations compared with 47 (20%) of those in the intervention group (p<0.0001). Mean concentrations of aflatoxin B1 in groundnuts in household stores in intervention and control villages were consistent with measurements of aflatoxin-albumin adducts.
Interpretation: Use of low-technology approaches at the subsistence-farm level in sub-Saharan Africa could substantially reduce the disease burden caused by aflatoxin exposure.