An investigation has been launched by the World Food Programme and Ugandan government into deaths linked with the distribution of fortified porridge to refugees and people in the northeastern Karamoja region.
Four people – two men, a woman and a child – have died and a further 262 have received treatment after consuming the United Nations food supplement called Super Cereal, The Guardian reports.
Uganda stopped nationwide distribution of the fortified porridge after it was alerted of possible food poisoning among people who consumed the cereal in the northeastern Karamoja.
“A big number of those were hospitalized with mental confusion and vomiting,” Ugandan Disaster Preparedness Minister Musa Ecweru said Monday.
Victims include children younger than five, the VOA reports
The investigation comes a month after the World Food Programme (WFP) found that its stocks of Super Cereal were of poor quality, though maintaining it had no safety issues
The autopsies of two people had not been able to determine the cause of death, the Ugandan Health ministry said, adding that further toxicological tests would be conducted
Authorities have so far sent samples of the cereal, allegedly procured from Turkey, to laboratories in Kenya and South Africa for testing.
The WFP said Super Cereal “aims to improve nutrition among pregnant or breastfeeding women by preventing stunting or treating life-threatening malnutrition.”
About 47,000 women and children in Karamoja and 102,000 refugees in 13 hosting districts across Uganda receive Super Cereals supplements under the government’s maternal child health and nutrition programme, which WFP implements, according to The Guardian.
The WFP said it carried out all the required quality controls before the purchase and distribution of the cereal. The Uganda National Bureau of Standards had also inspected the product to ensure that it met international standards.
“We are still puzzled about this localised situation [contamination]. The concentration of sickness is just in two districts out of the eight that Super Cereal is distributed,” El Khidir Daloum, WFP’s country director for Uganda was quoted by The Guardian.
“We did a complete due diligence for the supply. Our motive is to save lives with quality food.”
About 1.2 million refugees who are mostly from neighbouring South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are being hosted in Uganda
The country’s health ministry said the WFP is working with district authorities to retrieve all Super Cereal stocks from communities and health centres.
Meanwhile, aid agencies are still giving out food relief to refugees and people in Karamoja where human welfare, living conditions and quality of life of the people have declined
These have been attributed to environmental issues, poor health and infrastructure, insecurity, and chronic food shortage as an estimated 20% of Karamoja’s population is facing a food crisis, said a Uganda food security outlook report.
At the moment, much of Karamoja remain heavily dependent on aid from the United Nations World Food Programme and other agencies.