The Uganda Police Force, ministry of Health and World Food Program have provided an update on their investigations that ensued to ascertain whether there was a link between the food supplied by WFP and the illness that claimed three lives and left over 200 hospitalised in Napak and Amuda.
This followed reports from the two districts that showed that 296 people had reported abdominal pains, mental confusion, high fever and vomiting after eating Super Cereal a fortified food distributed by the WFP. Four people died in due process.
The government has since been undertaking a number of investigations on the food poisoning. These investigations are led by a multi sectoral Task force comprising of the Ministry Of Health, World Health Organization (WHO), The UN World Food Programme (WFP), Office of the Prime Minister (Karamoja affairs), Ministry of Internal Affairs, Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS), and the US based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
According to the Minister of Health Dr. Aceng Jane Ruth, extensive laboratory tests have so far been carried out on the food samples and patient specimens at the UNBS, Government Analytical Laboratory (Wandegeya), MOH Central Public Health Laboratory (CPHL), and Interek Testing Services in Mombasa and separately in Johannesburg.
” Further the tests were carried out by the Food and Drug Authority of USA. The tests were done to rule out the presence of Mycotoxins, Heavy metals, Pesticides and Microbial Agents in the food. The tested samples were collected from the WFP warehouses, health facilities and patients’ homes,” The Minister said in part.
She said that the laboratory findings so far have not explicitly pinpointed to the causative agent.
She says that similar tests were performed by Interek Mombasa and South Africa where three samples tested in the Mombasa lab had coliforms (a broad class of bacteria found in our environment, including the feces of man and other warm – blooded animals). From South Africa lab, one sample failed the aflatoxin B1 test; three samples had bacterial contamination and three others had coliforms.
Overall, all the samples tested were free of heavy metals and pesticides. The levels of aflatoxins however could not explain the acute symptoms of toxicity that were seen in patients in Karamoja.
She said an authority performed on one dead patient didn’t reveal any significant finding at post mortem.
According to WFP, the food came from a single Turkish supplier and since the incident, WFP suspended Super Cereal distributions from the Turkish supplier, both locally and internationally, pending findings from investigations. Even the food that had already been distributed to families was recalled and is safely stored and guarded.
Government and WFP also suspended distributions of Super Cereal in Uganda regardless of the supplier. They also launched extensive communications campaigns across the country to ensure people stopped eating Super Cereal and returned the product. They are now distributing different types of foods of equal or higher nutritional value to vulnerable people.
Super Cereal comprises of maize or wheat blended with soya beans, fortified with vitamins and minerals, processed into a flour and supplied in 25 kg bags. For years, it has been safely distributed by WFP and other humanitarian agencies globally to millions of vulnerable people including pregnant women and nursing mothers.
The Minister noted that government is committed to the investigation’s integrity, impartiality and accountability in delivering clear answers to the population and as soon as new information from the investigations becomes available, it will be released immediately.