Government of Uganda and United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) have started 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, last week 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 March 12 with symptoms of mental confusion, vomiting, headache, high fever and abdominal pain.
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, according to a joint statement issued Tuesday by the Ministry of Health and World Food Program.
The statement reports that 77 out 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.
“There are unverified reports of three deaths, one of them at Matany Hospital, Napak District and other two in the communities,” reads the statement.
One man died in Napak district and another female in Amudat district. All the deaths took place on March 16.
“The government’s investigative team are in the communities to verify the two none facility deaths”.
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.
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, John Byabagambi, the Director General of Health Services, Dr. Henry Mwebesa, the Country Director of WFP, El Khidir Daloum, and officials of the Uganda National Bureau of Standards visited the affected villages, in Amudat and Napak districts on Monday 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,” adds the joint statement.
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, 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.
An intensive communications campaign is ongoing, advising people not to consume Super Cereal 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. Super Cereal undergoes all the verifications of quality control before being distributed. No previous complaints have been reported about the product in Uganda.
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.