More than 250 people have fallen ill in Uganda linked to a fortified blended food distributed by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) for prevention of malnutrition. Officials urge people to stop eating the food until further notice.
A total of 262 people have been affected since March 12, with symptoms of mental confusion, vomiting, headache, high fever and abdominal pain. There are reports three people have died, one of them at Matany Hospital, Napak District, and two others. One male died in Lorengechora, Lookit village, Napak district, and a female died in Amuna village in Karita Sub County, Amudat district. All the deaths occurred on March 16.
Also on March 16, people with suspected food poisoning were admitted at Lotome Health Centre in Napak district one day after the suspect food was distributed there to families. More than 250 outbreak patients were discharged following treatment at health facilities in Amudat and Napak. No new admissions have been reported since March 18.
Seventy-seven of the 262 people were admitted in Alakas, Lokales and Karita health centers in Amudat district, while 185 went to Lotome, Lorengechora, Kangole and Apeitolim health centers and Matany Hospital in Napak district between March 12 and 16.
The WFP appealed for calm while investigations are ongoing. Officials with the U.N. program have requested that people report any suspected illnesses to the nearest health facility.
WFP ordered the suspension of so-called Super Cereal distributions in Karamoja and refugee hosting districts as a precautionary measure until investigations are concluded. WFP and district authorities are retrieving stocks of the fortified food blend from health centers and communities.
Teams from the Ministry of Health and WFP food technologists are carrying out surveillance and epidemiological mapping to establish the possible causes of the illnesses.
Samples of Super Cereal stocks and water taken from affected areas, as well as samples of blood, vomit and urine from patients, are being analyzed at the Directorate of Government Analytical Laboratory and the Central Public Health Laboratory.
Food samples have been sent to a lab in Mombasa owned by Intertek Kenya and Johannesburg Intertek Testing Services for further analysis. Preliminary results of the government investigation are expected in the next 24 hours while findings from abroad will be available within the next five to seven days.
The Minister for Karamoja Affairs, John Byabagambi, the director general of health services, Dr. Henry Mwebesa, country director of WFP, El Khidir Daloum, and officials of the Uganda National Bureau of Standards visited the affected villages, in Amudat and Napak district on March 18, and spoke to people and health workers. They found the problem was localized in two of the eight districts of Karamoja.
A communications campaign is advising people not to consume Super Cereal until further notice. Communities have been advised to observe proper hygiene and sanitation such as handwashing with soap and drinking boiled water.
WFP has provided Super Cereal in Uganda for more than 10 years. Current coverage is at 252 locations in Karamoja and many sites across the 13 refugee hosting districts. Refugees receive Super Cereal in the general food basket.
Super Cereal is distributed in many other countries and undergoes verifications of quality control before being distributed. No previous complaints have been reported about the product in Uganda, according to officials
However, in February this year WFP identified stocks of Super Cereal provided by a commercial supplier that were too low in protein and fat, falling short of what was specified in WFP’s contract with the company.
The quality issue was discovered in June 2018 while WFP was investigating a localized problem with the condition of some Super Cereal not related to protein or fat levels.
(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)