Health scare for 60,000 pupils over contaminated food

By Athman Amran

Scandal has hit the much-praised Kenyans for Kenya anti-hunger campaign, after some of the food rations bought with the cash raised in the initiative was found to be contaminated and unfit for human consumption.

Tests showed the food already delivered to drought-hit areas contains traces of the deadly aflatoxin.

Experts now caution that the lives of over 60,000 pupils who ate the food are at risk.

Central Imenti MP Gitobu Imanyara raised the matter in Parliament on Monday and demanded a statement from the Minister for Public Health Beth Mugo.

House Speaker Kenneth Marende ruled that the minister should deliver the statement on Wednesday next week.

The alarm was raised by Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS) Secretary General Abbas Gullet who said about 60,000 pupils may be at risk after eating contaminated food called Unimix supplied to Northern Kenya and parts of the Coast Province.

Tests by the Kenya Bureau of Standards, SGS and Analab had confirmed the contamination, said Mr Gullet at a press conference in a Nairobi hotel.

On Monday, Imanyara named Proctor & Allan and Sai Millers in Parliament as some of those contracted to supply the food.

On Monday, our attempts to reach Proctor & Allan for comment failed as top managers were unavailable.

Gullet said the pupils must undergo urgent medical check-ups to find out if they have been affected.

Medical research has shown that exposure to aflatoxin can lead to liver cancer, but Gullet said the children could have consumed the food for under a month before the consignment was recalled.

He, however, said the KRCS has to list the schools affected and will have to seek the help of the ministries of Education and Public Health.

“We have recalled the entire consignment that had not been distributed,” Gullet said.

He said since late last month, there has been no food distribution as they await a consignment of 2,000 metric tonnes from South Africa, which is expected to arrive next month.

“We had distributed 1,170 metric tonnes of food, but recently we recalled 362 metric tonnes,” Gullet said during a press conference at a Nairobi hotel.

Gullet said they discovered the food was bad on August 24, when they sent two random samples to Kebs for tesing.

“On September 23, we got the results and one product failed the test,” he said, adding that they did two other tests with SGS and Analab that confirmed the food was contaminated.

Gullet said the tests had shown that much of the food had quality that was “within limits” while there were higher levels of aflotoxin than normal in some cases.

Import food

A disappointed Gullet, however, said they had expected zero levels of aflatoxin and noted they would now rather import food that has been tested and is cheaper.

Gullet said the Kenya Red Cross is in touch with the two millers who, he said, have been co-operative in seeking a solution to the problem.

The millers may not only refund part of the Kenyans for Kenya money used to buy the food, but also pay for medical costs for examining those who had eaten the food and any other extra costs as a result.

“As an ordinary Kenyan I am very worried whether the quality of food I am eating from local sources is good. From now on, we will not buy food without testing,” Gullet said.

He urged other organisations that had also bought food locally for drought-stricken areas to come out in the open.

“It is not only the Red Cross that has bought food but others too, who should come out,” Gullet said.

The Kenyans for Kenyans initiative is billed as the biggest fundraiser in the history of the country.

It involved both the ordinary Kenyans who contributed from as little as Sh10, to corporations, which gave out millions in cash and kind.

The noble initiative was prompted by the onset of a severe drought that faced over 3.5 million Kenyans in Northern Kenya and parts of the Coast.

Some people fasted while others walked to work to contribute money to the needy. Local musicians have launched a new song, Kilio, to raise awareness of the plight of Kenyans going hungry.

Safaricom Foundation, Kenya Commercial Bank, Media Owners Association, and the Kenya Red Cross mobilised corporations and the public to raise Sh500 million in four weeks towards relief for three million starving Kenyans.



Kenya backstreet abortions kill thousands every year

“I was bleeding like hell. I knew that I was going to die,” Emily said, recalling how she sat naked on a plastic basin, haemorrhaging blood for two weeks after paying $10 (Sh1,000) for an abortion in Nairobi’s Mathare slums.

“It is the most painful thing I have ever experienced in my life. Even giving birth is not as painful as doing abortion.”

One reason the world’s population is soaring — to seven billion, by United Nations calculations, on October 31 — is because many poor women have little control over their bodies or their fertility.

One place where that is most apparent is in Kenya, where high rates of sexual violence, limited access to family planning and poverty mean 43 per cent of pregnancies are unwanted.

The majority of these women and girls have no choice but to give birth because abortion in most cases is illegal, although enforcement of laws around it are ambiguous, leading to one standard for the rich and another for the poor and uneducated.

As a result, at least 2,600 Kenyan women die in public hospitals each year after having botched backstreet abortions. Many more die at home without seeking medical care. And another 21,000 are admitted for treatment of abortion-related complications.

When Emily, 28, found out she was pregnant in 2009, her boyfriend denied it was his child and left her. She was jobless and already had a seven-year-old daughter, Ashley, to care for. Emily’s friends advised her to terminate the pregnancy.

“I have seen what many girls have gone through with abortion. I was afraid,” she said, adding how she found a 20-year-old friend dead alongside a note explaining how she had drunk a bottle of bleach hoping to cause a miscarriage.

After two months debating what to do, Emily borrowed Sh1,000 from friends — the equivalent of two months’ rent — and sought treatment from a well-known local abortionist.

A week of bleeding

The elderly woman inserted a plastic tube into Emily’s vagina and told her to sit for several hours on a bucket until she heard a pop.

“I felt something hot from my stomach coming out. She gave me some medicine and I went home,” Emily said, sitting in a friend’s one-room corrugated iron shack off a muddy alley.

After a week of bleeding, Emily’s friends brought her more medicine from the abortionist, but it didn’t help. Eventually, they carried her to a nearby clinic where she was given an injection that stopped the haemorrhaging.

Her ex-boyfriend beat her when he found out about the abortion.

“He told me that I am a murderer, that I killed his baby,” Emily said.

Kenya is a deeply religious Christian country and the church is vocal in its condemnation of abortion. Last year, they campaigned against the country’s new Constitution arguing that it legalised abortion.

The implementation of the law, which prohibits abortion except in cases where the mother’s life is in danger, is ambiguous, however.

The penal code says women who abort illegally can be jailed for seven years. But wealthier and more educated women take advantage of ‘medical guidelines’, which allow terminations in the interests of a woman’s physical or mental health but require the signatures of multiple doctors.

“In Kenya, we don’t know whether to procure an abortion is legal or illegal. We are just in between,” said one doctor who performs abortions.

Public hospitals rarely provide the service but it is easily available in private practices, where women pay up to Sh100,000 for a termination.

International charity Marie Stopes performs abortions in clinics for $25 (Sh2,500) to $60 (Sh6,000), which is still unaffordable for the majority of Kenyans.

“If we were to charge a lower price, we would be overwhelmed,” said a doctor working for Marie Stopes.

Women and teenage girls who are poor often have no option but to turn to quacks.

“They use bicycle spokes, knitting needles…putting sticks, pens through the cervix,” said Joseph Karanja, an obstetrician-gynaecologist who works at Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi.

lethal methods

Other painful, often lethal, methods include drinking detergent or overdosing on malaria pills. The hospital’s acute gynaecology ward receives five women each day seeking post-abortion care. It has 30 beds, sometimes shared between up to 70 women.

Women often delay seeking treatment until they are very sick due to fear, lack of money or emotional turmoil.

“They come at the point of death,” said Karanja, who estimates one or two women die from post-abortion complications at the hospital each month.

“They stay at home scared because they are afraid they will be arrested. So the uterus goes rotting inside. They get a very bad kind of infection called septic shock, where there is tissue damage, kidney damage, and then they finally die.”

Unsafe abortions account for 35 per cent of maternal deaths in Kenya, versus the global average of 13 per cent.

“We are losing many people through the botched and backstreet abortions,” said the Marie Stopes doctor.

“If we legalise it, we shall find that the number of deaths will go down or maybe there won’t be any deaths at all.”

Karanja says the problem is the divide between Kenya’s rich and poor.

“The high and mighty don’t have a problem. In those ivory tower hospitals, these services are available as a routine,” he said.

“These services should be provided in all public health facilities because that is where ordinary people go.”

— Reuters

Makinda presses for gender equity

By Daria Erasto
The Citizen Correspondent
Dar es Salaam. Political parties should use women not only in campaigns, mobilising people and fund raising, but also support them to be elected in their parties and government.

By doing so the parties would be  functioning as institutions that support democracy from a gender perspective, and women would have chances to decide on matters affecting them.

This was said yesterday by the Speaker of Parliament, Ms Anne Makinda, when she officially opened a three-day sub-regional roundtable on gender in building democracy for the East African Community (EAC) and Southern African Development Community (SADC).

She said even though Tanzania was in the fourth position among SADC counties and second in the EAC for having a large number of female MPs, it had a lot of challenges in attaining gender equality. She said the reason was that in most political parties only men held top six positions.

“We must all take responsibility to promote gender equality so as to have effective participation for all politically, economically and socially. Political parties must create a good environment for women to participate in democracy,” she said.

For his part, the secretary general of the SADC Parliamentary Forum, Dr Esau Chiviya, said gender inequality still existed in all spheres of life. In some countries it was very disheartening, he lamented.He said it was that way because some governments did not have the political will to bring about gender equality as a priority.

Uganda lags in life expectancy in EAC – report

By BENON HERBERT OLUKA  (email the author)

A new report assessing the state of world population indicates that a child born in Uganda today is expected to live for an average of 54 years for males and 55 for females.

The new life expectancy, while representing just a one-year increase from that of 2010, is lower than that of children born at a similar time in Kenya and Tanzania by at least four years. It is also several years lower than the life expectancy in several developed countries.

According to the State of the World Population Report 2011, Tanzania tops the East African region with a life expectancy of 58 years for males and 60 for females, while Kenya comes second with 57 and 59 for males and females, respectively. The life expectancy in the other East African countries is 54 for men and 57 for women in Rwanda, and 50 for men and 53 for women in Burundi.

With the life expectancy of Ugandans rising from an average of 48 years in 1990 to the 54.5 (for both men and women), it means Uganda has not made major strides.

The report, which comes days before the world population hits the seven billion mark on Monday, says the world population trends over the last 60 years has leapt from a global average of 48 years in early 1950s to about 68 in the first decade of the new century.

Uganda currently has one of the world’s most youthful populations (69 per cent of the 34 million people).

During the joint launch of the State of Uganda Population Report and its global equivalent, several officials said while the youthful population represents a challenge in the short term, it could also provide Uganda with an opportunity for growth if the youths are educated and empowered to be productive.

Uganda’s population to hit 100m in 2050

By BENON HERBERT OLUKA  (email the author)


Posted  Thursday, October 27  2011 at  00:00

Uganda, with its high fertility ratio of about seven children per family, is likely to see its population rise to 103.2 million by 2050, latest projections indicate.

Government released the projections yesterday while launching a report that assesses the state of the country’s population, with a pledge that it is keeping a keener eye on the implications of Uganda’s high growth rate. The announcement coincides with the timing of a global report, which shows that the world population will hit the seven billion mark on Monday.

The State of Uganda Population Report 2011, launched in Kampala yesterday alongside the State of the World Population Report 2011, paints a picture of a country whose rapidly rising population could have “negative impacts” for its per capita economic growth.

Throughout most of that time, the majority of Uganda’s population is likely to be young – leaving a perpetually huge weight of dependence on a small number of productive Ugandans. Currently, according to the 120-page report, some 69 per cent of Uganda’s population is under 24 years of age.

However, in a speech read by Finance Minister Maria Kiwanuka, Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi noted that the “government regards population as a crucial resource that can be harnessed for national development.

Estimates published in the report, whose focus this year was on reproductive health, show that if Uganda succeeded in reducing its population growth rate from the current 3.2 per cent to 2.4 per cent in the medium term, the country’s annual growth of per capita GDP could rise by between 0.5- 0.6 per cent.

“If we additionally consider the impact of the population dynamics such a reduction would entail, per capita economic growth could increase by between 1.4 and 3.0 percentage points per annum as long as Uganda would be in the phase of the ‘demographic gift’ with falling population growth but still substantial labour force growth,” it adds.

The report also adds that Uganda has an unusually large discrepancy in fertility between the highly educated (3.9) and the women with low education (7.8), which it says makes Uganda’s poor prone to being caught in a poverty trap which keeps poverty high, widens inequality and reduces economic growth.

In its analysis of the impact of population growth on resources, the report says more than 80 per cent of Ugandans rely directly upon land, agriculture, and fishing for their livelihoods, but environmental indicators reveal trends of degrading agricultural lands, soil erosion, deforestation, drainage of wetlands, loss of bio-diversity, reduced range land capacity, and increased pollution.

The report also indicates that the growth of urban populations throughout Uganda is placing particular stress on municipalities that already lack the infrastructure to meet current water and sanitation needs.

“In these urban areas, flooding, poorly constructed latrines, and the resultant run-off of solid waste contaminate water ways and further exacerbate diarrheal disease outbreaks. As such if the trend persists, there shall be several challenges to future growth and structural transformation unless serious measures are taken to convert it into a population dividend,” explains the report, which adds that even in densely populated Kampala, 85 per cent of households rely on pit latrines.

Comparing Uganda’s socio economic indicators with those of other countries in Africa and Asia that have lower population growth rates, the report says Uganda’s high population growth rate exacerbates poverty and constrains the household’s and the government’s efforts to provide quality social services such as education and health.

“The problem with a fast-growing population is not the growth itself, but “rapid, unplanned growth,” concludes the report. “It is conceded that growth is a natural process that guarantees continuity of existence of living things. However, the process of growth is determined by important variables, which include; age structure, sex and distribution. The decisions and policies we make today, and the options available to young people, will ultimately determine the quality of the population in 2050.”

In his statement, however, Mr Mbabazi said the government is now closely monitoring the country’s population trends, “not only in numbers but also in terms of what implications such numbers mean to the provision of services such as health, education, housing, food, [and] employment.”

Life expectancy for Kenyans now 58 years, says report

File | NATION The minister of State for Planning, National Development and Vision 2030, Mr Wycliffe Oparanya, during the launch of the 2009 Kenya Population and Housing Census results at the KICC in Nairobi on August 31, 2010. With him is assistant minister Peter Kenneth.

File | NATION The minister of State for Planning, National Development and Vision 2030, Mr Wycliffe Oparanya, during the launch of the 2009 Kenya Population and Housing Census results at the KICC in Nairobi on August 31, 2010. With him is assistant minister Peter Kenneth.

 Babies born today have more years to live than many of their parents if current demographic indicators remain constant.

A United Nations Population Fund report released on Wednesday shows that the number of years Kenyans born at the same time can expect to live, or life expectancy at birth, has gone up by three years.

The State of World Population 2011 Report: People and Possibilities in a World of 7 billion shows that the average life expectancy of both males and females currently stands at 58 years.

It is an increase of three years from the 55.5 years where the demographic indicator stood as per the 2010 report.

But it was more good news for female Kenyans, whose life expectancy has gone up from 56 years to 59.

They are better off compared to their male counterparts, who can expect to live for 57 years.

The 2010 report indicated a life expectancy of 55 years for men.

The rise in life expectancy is a big improvement from the 2008 level, when it stood at 54 years for both men and women, according to World Health Organisation and World Bank statistics.

Life expectancy is the average number of years lived by a group of people born in the same year, if mortality at each age remained constant.

The life expectancy has also gone up for some of the neighbouring countries.

Female Tanzanians still enjoy the highest life expectancy in the region.

The country’s female population would likely live for 60 years, an increase from 57.7 years as per last year’s report.

Income levels

On average, Tanzanians would live for 59 years, up from 56.9 years as per the 2010 report.

Men in the country have two years less to live compared to women.

Uganda has the lowest life expectancy at 54.5 years, an increase of less than a year.

The country had an average life expectancy of 54.1 years last year.

It means that each woman would prefer to have an average of five children.

The report, to be officially launched in Kenya on Monday, also shows that 22 in every 100 Kenyans live in urban areas.

It notes that many people are living longer and healthier lives, and couples are choosing to have smaller families.

But 215 million women in developing countries who would like to plan and space their children lack access to effective contraception.

“In some of the poorest countries, high fertility rates hamper development and perpetuate poverty,” the report said.

Usually, the number of years people can live is influenced by many factors, including the quality of life that is directly or indirectly determined by income levels, education, health expenditure and access to safe water.

Rwandan men and women have a life expectancy of 54 years and 57 years for men and women respectively.

Japanese women, at 87 years, still have the highest life expectancy in the world. The current figure represents an increase from 86.6 years as per the 2010 report. It is expected that the population of the world will reach seven billion on Monday.

The report shows that the number of women in Kenya is now the same as that of men.

The news either means that more girls were born over the last two years or that more men may have died over the same period.

According to the report, there are 20.8 million women and the same number of men.

There were over 200,000 more women than men according to the 2009 Kenya National Population and Housing Census.

The UN report shows that there are 41.6 million people in Kenya, nearly a million more than the 40.9 million last year.

The 2009 census results put the population at 38.6 million.

The report shows that the population of Kenya is rising faster than it did a few years ago.

Reproductive period

It says the growth rate is currently 2.7, nearly half the economic growth rate.

Despite this, the total fertility rate, or the average number of children each woman would prefer to have throughout the reproductive period, still remains at 4.6.

Student hoisted high, then dumped in foreign land

By Robert Kiplagat

It was meant to be a smooth stay in the Philippines with the only worry being studies and passing examinations. In addition, he was to stay miles away from the stress of extreme poverty at home. The journey abroad, however, turned out to be one long nightmare for Edwin Chebon Kandagor.

He went hungry many nights and at times even contemplated making the streets his abode.

Yet, in November last year, Chebon and his family celebrated as he embarked on arrangements to travel abroad for his Bachelor of Science Degree in Pharmacy at Negros Oriental State University after his MP, Sammy Mwaita, facilitated his travel to the Philippines.

For Chebon, 21, who hails from Baringo Central constituency, the earlier ecstasy of being a scholarship recipient seems like a fanciful dream.

So when he came back to the country after ‘going through hell’ last Sunday, he is still dazed, and finds it hard to imagine that he suffered so greatly in a foreign land. He had this distant look on his face during the celebrations at his home after his arrival, a clear indication of the torturous months he lived.

He gets emotional and breaks down a number of times when he narrates his experience to The Standard in an interview later.

He had left the country enthusiastically looking forward to his studies in the Philippines.

As he settled down to study, his dream of success became a nightmare as subsequent events showed he obviously could not continue with his studies for lack of fees.

“I paid the second semester fees from the Sh160,000 my MP gave me but I had to cater for my accommodation and food. For these, I used the little money my family had raised,” he says.

Cheboi soon ran out of money to sustain himself. While he was thinking about getting food for himself, the university came calling for the second semester fees.

“I tried explaining to them that the funds were being sent via electronic money transfer but they could hear none of it. I had two options: Either to pay or ship out.”

University president

Realising he had limited choices, Chebon spoke to the university president who told him the institution did not accept money via wire transfers, but only cash payment. He communicated the same home, and waited for his benefactor to step in quickly.

But as he realised, help was not forthcoming as fast as he expected. As a result, he stayed out of class for two months.

“After this, the university officially discontinued me saying I wouldn’t catch up with the rest of my classmates,” he adds, bowing his head sorrowfully.

Chebon’s defence was weak, as he had joined university late, after the other students were through with one semester.

“I joined in the second semester, which meant I hadn’t started the course with the rest of the students.”

Without money to sustain himself and his education cut short, Chebon felt lost in a foreign land and all he wanted was to come home to his familiar surroundings.

But Philippines is a long way from home. As he waited and hoped for his homecoming, he sought refuge from a fellow Kenyan student, who, incidentally comes from Eldoret.

“He accommodated and fed me as I awaited help from home. That time was the most traumatising in my life.”

As Chebon soon learnt, the cup of generosity doesn’t flow endlessly. The student who had sheltered him felt the pressure of taking care of Chebon and told him the same.

“He’d no longer afford food for two. So there are many days I went without food as I desperately tried to get help from home.”

And in the midst of this, he fell sick with malaria.

“Getting medication was a problem. I was assisted by a friend to get treatment.”

“If it were not for my friend, I would have started living in the streets,” he adds.

Call home for help

Chebon says since he had a mobile phone and a Philippine simcard, he was able to use some of the money his friends gave him to call home for help.

“This communication was my only lifeline. At least I was in touch with my parents. And it helped me get back home through the money my family mobilised to fly me back.”

At one point, he thought of seeking help from the Kenyan Embassy in capital Manila but it meant flying there. He didn’t have the money (some Sh15,000) to buy the ticket, but even if he got money from a generous person he’d have spent it to buy a ticket to Kenya instead.

Chebon’s university is in an island, Dumaguete City, and its distance from Manila is equivalent to the distance between Nairobi and Addis Ababa. Most cities in Philippines are located on islands. The most preferred mode of transport between these islands is by ship.

His only hope

So he put pressure on his family, calling them so often, for they were his only hope.

“I did this knowing too well they could not assist much. They had even sold some family belongings to get me fare on my first trip. So I expected little support,” he says.

His parents told The Standard they had been assured that their son was to be placed on a scholarship in the Philippines.

“We didn’t know that our son was headed for trouble,” said his dejected father, Nahaman Kandagor.

Raising funds for Chebon’s return ticket was difficult but the little they got was boosted by former Co-operative Bank chairman, Hosea Kiplagat. And that is how he travelled back home.

Chebon says he now regrets the time he has wasted in Philippines and his coming back without the education he went for.

“I was supposed to be the light in my family, now all that has been shattered. My parents now have to look for more money to get me back to a local college.”

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