on assignment: south africa

Johannesburg — A South African woman described her son as a “hero” after he died due to listeriosis and she was cleared of any symptoms.

Vuyani Moledi became pregnant with a boy while studying at The University of South Africa (UNISA).

She was seven months pregnant when she was rushed to the hospital and two days after her son was born he passed away. Testing during this time by doctors found he had listeriosis. She was discharged after three days in the hospital.

Vuyani Moledi

“What I keep telling everyone is that when I had the listeriosis it came out with my son, I was left with none of it whatsoever, I didn’t have any symptoms. That is why I say he is my hero as he basically saved my life. His name was Favour,” Moledi told Food Safety News.

“It was tough last year as I had just lost him. Since then we are trying to be positive. I am trying to be a better person like I would have wanted to be if he was here. So basically I am trying to live a positive life and not be depressed about what happened. I am getting there, I am much better than before,” Favour’s mother said.

“I was seven months pregnant with my son and I gave birth too early, it was unexpected. I lost my son because I ate food that I love. I ate products that I thought were good. We’ve been eating those products and nothing had happened. Why did we lose people we love because of products we thought were safe and healthy for people to eat? It is not fair because we have to live with the pain every day. You say to yourself: I wish I did not buy it, I wish I just left if there.”

The Listeria outbreak in South Africa during 2017 and 2018 infected more than 1,000 people and 200 deaths were linked to polony, a ready-to-eat processed meat, made at a factory in Polokwane by Enterprise Foods, which is owned by Tiger Brands. Polony is similar to baloney products sold in the United States.

Vuyani’s mother is a nurse and on her advice she went home to QwaQwa, a region of South Africa, and the pregnancy went well with the baby moving around a lot. The 27 year old planned to go back to school after giving birth.

In November 2017, Vuyani had Enterprise Brand products including Russians, viennas, polony and ham on numerous occasions. In early December she noticed a lack of appetite and developed a severe headache.

At seven months pregnant she started having contractions and her mum rushed her to Elizabeth Ross hospital in Phuthaditjhaba. Nurses checked the baby’s heartbeat and admitted her. After giving birth the baby was blue, tiny and not breathing or crying so he was put on oxygen to help him breathe.

They were transferred to Manapo Hospital, also in Phuthaditjhaba, and the baby was put in an incubator. After doctors ran blood tests the baby was transferred to ICU and connected to wires, drips and a ventilator.

Vuyani was called to go to the intensive care unit as staff were resuscitating her son but he ultimately died. A week later she got a message from a doctor saying her son died of Listeria monocytogenes. Vuyani was tested and learned she was negative for Listeria.

Moledi said she avoids polony now and was not previously aware of listeriosis.

“I had seen it on TV, at that time they didn’t know what the reason was for listeriosis, I didn’t really read about it. You know how we are as people when you see something you don’t really take it seriously as it is not happening to you at that time,” she said.

“It was one of those foods that was always in the fridge. Anytime I would make a sandwich I would use polony or in the morning I would have eggs, bread and Russians, just normal daily food. Sometimes I would eat them alone. Normally we are advised to cook it, so I would boil water put it in there and eat it. I don’t eat polony or any of those products anymore, I am so scared I have a fear of them.”

Tiger Brands must make sure polony is safe to eat now it has returned to supermarket shelves, said Moledi.

Vuyani Moledi

“My message would be in the future they need to make sure their products don’t have any bacteria that can harm people. For crying out loud these are products we trust and they are expensive so if you eat an expensive product you expect it to not have any diseases or bacteria in it,” she said.

“I want to eat something and feel safe and not feel like if I eat it what is going to happen to me? They should put more thought into making sure their products are safe for people to eat because now we have lost our loved ones just because of eating polony.

“I would like something to happen, something must be done about this situation because I feel like it is taken lightly. It is not like HIV, people died of polony, only a few not a lot so it is not being taken seriously, they are not making as big a deal about it as I would want them to. I would like it to be made a big deal as we lost our loved ones.”

Moledi said she received support via social media after her sister posted about what happened.

“The only support I had (after the death of her son) was my family, then my sister posted about it on Facebook and Instagram just to make people aware it is real and it actually does kill people. That is when I got support on social media. My sister was in Thailand but I never felt her absence, she video called me every day, there was never a time when I felt she was not here with me and my three brothers were also there,” she said.

“Losing a loved one, even if you didn’t lose someone due to Listeriosis but they still have those side-effects, try to find the positivity in the pain, I don’t know it that makes sense, but I tried to understand there must be a reason why this had to happen to me specifically, why I had to lose my son because of listeriosis. They should be strong and if they are religious they should pray about it or go for counselling as it helps.”

Moledi is now back at school doing public management and is determined to do something with her life with future plans including possibly living abroad in Europe.

Editor’s note: In early February, Joe Whitworth traveled to Johannesburg, South Africa, for Food Safety News to interview some of the people who were affected by the Listeria outbreak. It’s been nearly eight months since government officials declared the outbreak over, but victims and their families continue to struggle to overcome its impact. In the coming weeks we will be publishing a series of stories to help ensure that the public’s voice is heard.

To read more of Whitworth’s coverage about the impact of the outbreak, please see:

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