The weekend was rife with extremely disturbing news that two people died in Napak and Amudat districts and more than 100 people were battling for their lives after eating food supplied by UN World Food Programme.
The porridge flour supplied to the two districts last week claimed the lives of 50-year-old Chemkany Setionga, a resident of Chepkwararat village in Karita Sub-county, Amudat, and Nate Sagal, 40, of Lomote in Napak. It is understandable that the developments have raised eyebrows among members of the public and have got leaders of Karamoja Sub-region boiling with anger.
It is good that officials from the WFP have halted supply of the food items in Uganda until the matter is resolved. It is also positive that Mr Musa Ecweru, the State Minister for Relief, Refugees and Disaster Preparedness, has indicated that the government is investigating the matter with a view of finding the cause of the poison.
“What we suspect is that food could have got contaminated during the packaging process, but the question is how it sneaked not to be discovered. As government we are working hard to get that,” he said.
The development is strange. Reports from Amudat last Thursday indicated that some of the victims were readmitted after presenting signs similar to those of nodding syndrome. Nodding syndrome, also referred to as nodding disease, was reported in parts of northern Uganda. It is characterised by a nodding behaviour that is accompanied by convulsions, staring spells, or other manifestations of seizures.
Relatedly, health officials this newspaper talked to at the weekend said many of the patients showed signs of severe fever, running stomachs and had elements of mental instability.
The WFP has done a tremendous job over the years in ensuring that those in need of food across the country access it. We applaud the gesture. However, the latest incident – much as it must not be viewed as a verdict against the programme – should be looked at microscopically.
The investigations should trace the root cause of the problem and findings should be shared with members of the public as soon as possible. Also, going forward, thorough tests must be done on such food rations before being delivered to the public to avoid postmortem reactions.
Equally important is that health officials in the sub-region, should furnish the central government and members of the public results of the postmortem so that everyone gets to know what could happened in Karamoja.