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.

 

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