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WFP suspends food distribution in Karamoja amid poisoning claims

World Food Programme (WFP) has suspended distributing a fortified blended food, Super Cereal, in Karamoja amid food poisoning claims (WFP PHOTO)

KAMPALA – The World Food Programme (WFP) has suspended distributing Super Cereal – a fortified blended food – in Uganda after scores of people were taken sick and were admitted to health centres following local food distributions in the Karamoja region.

The Government and WFP are investigating and have submitted samples of Super Cereal for laboratory tests to determine whether there is a link between eating blended food and people falling sick after distributions. From the outset, WFP has treated this as a matter of extreme urgency.

As a precaution in case Super Cereal is linked to outbreaks of sickness, WFP is stopping distributing Super Cereal in all its operations in Uganda including in refugee settlements across the country and in its Maternal Child Health and Nutrition (MCHN) programme in Karamoja.

WFP is supporting local governments in communicating with communities on the situation and is urging them to stop eating Super Cereal as a precaution in case a link is found.

On Saturday, 16 March, people with suspected food poisoning were reported admitted at Lotome Health Centre in Napak district one day after a distribution there to families. Other people including children were admitted to Karita and Lokales health centres in Amudat district.

A WFP team in Lotome reported over 90 cases today including 12 of children under the age of 5 being admitted to the health centre with symptoms including confusion and high fever.

This followed admissions of people to another health centre in Karamoja after distribution of Super Cereal and other foods.

WFP on Friday ordered an immediate halt to food distributions in its MCHN programme in all eight districts in Karamoja and extended this to the rest of the country and refugee settlements as a precautionary measure.

On Tuesday, 12 March, WFP provided Super Cereal, sugar and oil to 120 families at Alakas Health Centre II in Amudat district in Karamoja. On 13 March, Amudat hospital said that nine people had been admitted with symptoms of high fever and mental confusion.

In response, a WFP team went to Alakas to investigate and coordinate. On 14 March, the hospital reported the number of patients had grown to 24, complaining of headaches, dizziness, fever and exhibiting signs of severe mental disorder.

All of them were from or related to five out of 120 families who consumed food they received on 12 March at Alakas Health Centre II. A local government report said the hospital diagnosed them with food poisoning due to unspecified causes. All patients were treated and had recovered and were discharged from Amudat hospital on Thursday, 14 March.

Super cereal is provided by WFP through 44 government health centres across Karamoja and aims to improve nutrition among pregnant or breastfeeding women, and children between 6 and 59 months in order to prevent stunting.

The programme provides the nutrients that women and children need in the critical first 1,000 days – a window of opportunity from a child’s conception to his or her 2nd birthday. Inadequate nutrition at this time can irreversibly hamper cognitive and physical development.

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