The Ministry of Health has said there are no signs of bacteria in the preliminary findings from the tests conducted on samples of blood, urine and foods following the alleged contamination of relief food supplied by World Food Programme (WFP) which has so far killed three people in Karamoja.
Earlier this week, government and (WFP) launched an investigation to establish 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.
Some 262 people were left ill with symptoms of mental confusion, vomiting, headache, high fever and abdominal pain. Three people have so far been confirmed dead.
“Ministry of Health committed that we will share with you results when they come. Allow me to say that not all the results have come. We have only received results of blood from the Central Public Health Laboratory and a few samples of urine. Analysis is still ongoing, the Minister said while addressing reporters at the Ministry of Health on Thursday.
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.
The Health Minister says the cultures are still ongoing since it takes time for bacteria to grow, but that the results received Thursday morning from samples of blood, urine, sugar, stool, flour, cooking oil and porridge indicate “there has been no bacterial growth at all”.
“There is no bacteria seen at all,” Dr Aceng said.
“When you fall sick and you have a fever or vomiting, we assume that you have an infection which could have come from anything. So, because these patients had fever, we had to remove their samples. We also removed samples from the food”.
She explained that once these samples are removed, there is a medium on which it is grown in order to establish whether anything is going to come out.
“But up to now, there’s no growth. Meaning there was no bacterial contamination. But like I said, tests are still ongoing,” she said.
She said that the 262 people that were in Nakapiripirit and Amudat “were discharged in good condition and they are all okay” with exception of the case of a death in a health facility.
On Thursday, New Vision, a Ugandan daily, reported that “food aid victims’ organs cracked”, quoting a postmortem report. When SoftPower News put the question to the Minister on the reports, she said she was not aware what the basis is.
“I should be asking you the press where that is coming from because it is not coming from us. First of all, there is nothing like the abdomen cracking or the intestines cracking. That doesn’t happen,” the Minister said in response.
“If there are chemicals, those chemicals need to be reported so we know what chemicals they are.
She revealed that results from the chemical analysis will take some time to be released since the samples were taken abroad.
“It takes a bit of time. My humble appeal to you is to be patient. When the CPHL gives us results, the Government Analytical Lab gets results, we get from Kenya and Mombasa, we need to harmonize them for a concrete result because not all of them will be speaking the same thing,” she said.
According to Dr Aceng, it could take 5 to 7 days until the results on chemical tests will be released, adding that it is not wise to reveal the results in bits. She also appealed to the media to give only the correct the information to the public.
“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”.
On Friday last week, WFP working with the government, ordered the immediate suspension of Super Cereal distributions in Karamoja and the refugee hosting districts where it is distributed.
The UN agency said 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.
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.