The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has revealed it has failed to identify the exact substance that caused the death of 3 people and left nearly 300 people from Karamoja region of Uganda hospitalized two months ago.
In an emotional statement released to media yesterday, WFP said it had carried our more than 2400 tests but still failed to find the exact cause of the death.
“Preliminary investigations have failed to conclusively find what caused the illness.
To date, more than 2,400 food-related laboratory tests were conducted – including for mycotoxins, heavy metals, pesticides and microbial contaminants – but the root cause of the problem has not yet been established,” WFP said.
WFP admitted the issue has and will have enormous impact on its reputation and finances.
“This issue is unprecedented in its implications for WFP’s global supply chain as the food supplies on hold around the world amount to over 21,000 metric tons, with an estimated replacement value of US$22 million. WFP has taken extensive preventative action as the health and safety of the people we serve is our foremost concern.”
Without a definitive answer to the matter, WFP has decided to recall the entire stock of the Super cereal that was linked to the deaths.
The UN agency has also stopped to source relief food from the multinational company that manufactures high protein food from Rwanda, Belgium and Turkey. The batch in question was reportedly sourced from Turkey although substantial supplies of super cereal has been coming from the Rwanda-based branch Africa Improved Foods.
“As a precautionary measure, the World Food Programme (WFP) has temporarily halted distribution worldwide of a fortified blended food from one of its suppliers as tests continue to establish whether it is linked to outbreaks of illness in East Africa,” the agency said in a statement.
According to medical centres and hospital records, three people died and 293 were admitted to health centres in the Karamoja region of Northeast Uganda in March and April after eating Super Cereal, distributed by WFP. The product is used by WFP and partners to prevent malnutrition, especially among women and children.
On 9 April, WFP halted the distribution globally of all products from the supplier in question. This involved putting on hold Super Cereal stocks in WFP operations in 25 countries.
In a further precautionary move, on 30 April, WFP ordered all stocks of Super Cereal from the same supplier should be secured in WFP warehouses and storage areas belonging to partners. Samples from the stock will continue to be tested to confirm or rule out any of the preliminary conclusions.
As suspicion fell on Super Cereal as a possible cause or carrier of contamination, WFP acted swiftly, halting all distributions of the food first in Karamoja and then across Uganda.
Communications campaigns were launched to urge any people in Karamoja with remaining stocks to return them. These campaigns included using radio messages, focus group discussions, community dialogues and public discussions with elders and community leaders.
Super Cereal is maize or wheat blended with soya beans, fortified with vitamins and minerals, processed into a flour and supplied in 25-kg bags and is a critical part of WFP’s efforts to prevent malnutrition and save lives.