Nairobi — The World Food Programme (WFP) announced on Friday that it had suspended global distribution of a food supplement from one of its suppliers after three people died in Uganda and nearly 300 others fell ill.
As part of its precautions, the UN agency said it is impounding more than 21,000 tonnes of the product, pending the outcome of safety tests.
Three people died and 293 were hospitalised in north-eastern Uganda in March and April after consuming the fortified, blended food, which is known as Super Cereal, the WFP said. The product is used worldwide by the WFP to prevent malnutrition, particularly in women and children.
Uganda suspended distribution of Super Cereal in March after reports of fatalities and sickness, including confusion, high fever and vomiting.
The WFP said preliminary investigations “have failed to conclusively find what caused the illness”. More than 2,400 laboratory tests have been conducted “but the root cause of the problem has not yet been established”, the agency said.
It said that on April 9 it stopped distributing Super Cereal which was provided by one particular supplier. In a further precaution, on April 30 it ordered that stocks from this supplier — worth an estimated $22m — be impounded in warehouses for testing.
“This issue is unprecedented in its implications for WFP’s global supply chain,” the agency said in a statement. The WFP insisted it had “acted swiftly” to recall stocks in Uganda when concern about the product emerged.
The agency issued radio warnings and messages through community elders to urge people to return any leftover supplies.
The WFP stressed the role of Super Cereal — a wheat or maize product fortified with vitamins and minerals — in saving lives in malnourished communities.