Aflatoxin - Global Health Threat

Maize contaminated with aflatoxin has been linked to extremely high rates of malnutrition and child mortality in Sub Saharan Africa (child stunting - 34%; child mortality - 75 deaths per 1000 live births).[1]

Aflatoxin is a dangerous carcinogen from toxigenic mold species of Aspergillus flavus and A. parasiticus, which naturally inhabit soil around the world and favor high heat and humidity. Contamination in maize is a serious food safety and public health risk in SSA, where more than 300 M people depend on the crop as a staple food source.[2]

Aflatoxin has been linked to up to 35% of childhood stunting (a critical malnutrition indicator) in SSA.[3] Aflatoxin exposure in mothers during pregnancy has shown a strong effect on growth of the infant in the first year of life.[4] Studies have also linked childhood stunting with dietary exposure to aflatoxins upon weaning.[5] Malnourished children have a higher risk of death from common childhood illness (diarrhea, pneumonia, and malaria); and nutrition-related factors contribute to about 45% of deaths of children under 5 in SSA each year – i.e., 1.26 M of the total 2.79 M child deaths.[6], [7] Health economists estimate that the total future non-health GDP loss from death of children under 5 years old in SSA is about $140 B (International $) per year ($50,494 per child death).[8]

Based on this data (and population and birth rate data), dietary aflatoxin exposure in SSA may be linked to up to 4.5 M new cases of childhood stunting each year, 440,000 deaths of children under 5 (15.75% of total child mortality), and about $22 B in lost future GDP may be linked to up to 440,000 deaths of children under 5 each year (15.75% of total child mortality), and about $22B of lost future GDP.

[1] The World Bank. World Bank Open Data.

[2] International Livestock Research Institute. Corporate Report, 2014-15. pg. 31.

[3] Feed the Future. Agrilinks. Aflatoxin Infographics and Related Sources.

[4] Paul Turner, et al. (June 2007). 'Aflatoxin exposure in utero causes growth faltering in Gambian infants.' International Journal of Epidemiology 2007; 36:1119 – 1125.

[5] Yunyun Gong, et al. Determinants of aflatoxin exposure in young children from Benin and Togo, West Africa: the critical role of weaning.' International Journal of Epidemiology. 2003 Aug;32(4):556-62.

[6] The World Bank. World Bank Open Data.

[7] World Health Organization. Children: reducing mortality.

[8] Joses Kirigia, et al. 'Counting the cost of child mortality in the World Health Organization African region.' BMC Public Health (2015) 15:1103.


Aflatoxin contaminated corn. Often the contaminant is within the kernel and not visible to the naked eye.


In many developing countries farmers dry their corn in the open air, or on tarps, further enhancing aflatoxin-related fungal conditions.