By Uganda Vanguard
KAMPALA – The Government of Uganda and United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) are investigating whether there is a connection between recent illnesses reported in two districts in Karamoja and super cereal, a fortified blended food distributed by WFP for prevention of malnutrition.
“On Tuesday, 12th, 2019, the Ministry of Health received an alert through its surveillance teams on the ground in Karamoja about suspected food poisoning and began investigations. Some 262 people have been affected since 12 March with symptoms of mental confusion, vomiting, headache, high fever and abdominal pain,” reads in a joint statement issued by Uganda government and WFP Tuesday March 19th, 2019.
“A total of 252 of those were discharged following successful treatment at health facilities in Amudat and Napak. No new admissions have been reported since Monday 18 March,” it further reads.
“Seventy-seven of the 262 people were admitted in Alakas, Lokales and Karita health centres in Amudat district while 185 were admitted in Lotome, Lorengechora, Kangole and Apeitolim health centres and Matany Hospital in Napak district. The admissions took place between 12th and 16th of March,”
Mr Emmanuel Ainebyoona, the spokesperson, Ministry of Health said there are unverified reports of three deaths, one of them at Matany Hospital, Napak District and other two in the communities.
“One male passed away in Lorengechora, Lookit village, Napak district and another female in Amuna village in Karita Sub County, Amudat district. All the deaths took place on 16th of March, 2019. The government’s investigative team are in the communities to verify the two none facility deaths,” he said.
Ainebyoona said samples of super cereal stocks and water were taken from the affected areas including blood, vomitus and urine from patients and are currently being analyzed at the Directorate of Government Analytical Laboratory and the Central Public Health Laboratory.
He added, “Food samples have been sent to a laboratory in Mombasa, Intertek Kenya LTD and another in Johannesburg Intertek Testing Services, S.A. LTD, for further analysis. Preliminary results of the Government investigation are expected in the next 24 hours. While results from abroad are expected within the next 5 to 7 days.”
The Minister for Karamoja Affairs, Mr. John Byabagambi, the Director General of Health Services, Dr. Henry Mwebesa, the Country Director of WFP, Mr. El Khidir Daloum, and officials of the Uganda National Bureau of Standards visited the affected villages, in Amudat and Napak district on Monday 18 March, and spoke to the affected people and health workers. The team found that the problem remains localized in only two of the eight districts of Karamoja.
Investigating teams from the Ministry of Health and WFP food technologists remain on the ground carrying out surveillance and epidemiological mapping to establish the associated factors and possible causes of this recent illness.
On Friday 15 March, WFP, working with the Government, ordered the immediate suspension of Super Cereal distributions in Karamoja and the refugee hosting districts where it’s distributed. This is as a precautionary measure until investigations are concluded. WFP is working with district authorities to retrieve all Super Cereal stocks from health centres and communities.
Mr Peter Smerdon, the spokesperson, WFP/East Africa, said an intensive communications campaign is ongoing, advising people not to consume SuperCereal until further notice.
“Communities have been advised to observe proper hygiene and sanitation, for example through handwashing with soap and drinking boiled water. Working through Government health systems, WFP has provided Super Cereal in Uganda for more than 10 years. The current coverage of Super Cereal is at 252 locations in Karamoja in addition to many sites across the 13 refugee hosting districts. Refugees receive Super Cereal in the general food basket.”
Super Cereal is also distributed in many countries and has a robust record of fighting malnutrition and protecting pregnant or nursing women against malnutrition during the first 1,000 days of their child’s life, Smerdon noted. Adding, “Super Cereal undergoes all the verifications of quality control before being distributed. No previous complaints have been reported about the product in Uganda.”
He further explained, “Super Cereal is a key component in WFP’s support to the Government’s nutrition programmes that aim to prevent stunting or life-threatening malnutrition.”
He assured the public, “The goal of The United Nations World Food Programme is saving lives in emergencies and changing lives for millions through sustainable development. WFP supports governments and works in more than 80 countries around the world, feeding people caught in conflict and disasters, and laying the foundations for a better future.”
Adding, “The Ministry of Health, Ministry of Karamoja affairs and WFP commit to conclude all investigations and share results with the public.
We appeal for calmness as investigations are going on and request the communities to report any suspected illness to the nearest health facility or call our toll free line 080010006.”