KENYA – During the past two weeks, two Kenyan schools have been plagued by severe episodes of suspected food poisoning, which have so far claimed the lives of three students and forced the closure of the schools.
More than 500 students from Mukumu Girls’ High School have reportedly contracted the bacteria, and 124 of them have been admitted to the Kakamega County Medical Hospital.
Sumba Juma, the Director of Communications for Kakamega County, had earlier stated that cholera had been ruled out by county doctors, and that food poisoning was now thought to be the most likely cause of the diarrhoea that had raised concerns.
The Sacred Heart Girls, as it is popularly known, is part of other learning institutions sponsored by one of the earliest Catholic missions in Kakamega County.
Other institutions in the mission include St Augustine Mukumu Boys Boarding Primary School, St Ignatius Mukumu Boys High School, St Peters Seminary, and St Charles Lwanga Boys’ high schools.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), foodborne hazards are responsible for 137,000 deaths and 91 million acute illnesses in Africa every year, mostly affecting children under age 5.
The most common symptoms of food poisoning are diarrhoea, stomach pain or cramps, nausea, vomiting, and fever. However, most of these incidents usually go unreported.
In order to determine the cause of the disease and outbreak, samples from the sick students were gathered and analyzed at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI).
The Mukumu Girls’ Principal Fridah Ndolo requested that parents keep an eye on their children in a letter to parents and guardians after the school was closed indefinitely.
“Let us pray for our students and Mukumu community. If we take our children home for treatment, let us take them to the hospital and monitor them. We have lost two students, Wedny Oyungi Amani and Mirriam Namajanja,” said the principal.
Hot on the tail of the Mukumu incident, 100 students from Butere Boys were taken ill with suspected cholera leading to the closure of the school.
“Dear Parent/Guardian: this is to inform you that your son has been sent home due to an outbreak of stomach problems leading to diarrhoea.
“Once the Public Health Officers give us a report declaring the school safe for your son, we shall recall them back. Bear with us,” read the communication from the principal, Henry Okusi.
Medical Director of Butere County Hospital Fredrick Juma was unable to estimate the number of students treated there, but The Standard found that at least 200 boys had reported experiencing vomiting and diarrhea after breakfast.
Moreover, 25 students from St. Andrews Primary School in Nuu Ward, Mwingi Central Constituency, Kitui County, were hospitalized at the Mwingi Level 4 hospital in early March in critical condition after consuming maize meal made from possibly expired flour at the institution.
After conducting an inspection at the school, a team of health officers led by Area Public Health Chief Officer Lynne Kitwan seized almost 700 kilograms of expired maize flour, which the team of health officers connected to the illnesses of the 25 schoolchildren.
According to Kitwan, 55 students from the school experienced health issues after ingesting the alleged maize flour, including stomachaches, diarrhea, and vomiting.
They were rushed to the nearby Nuu health center before the 25 pupils who were seriously sick were referred to Mwingi Level 4 Hospital while the other 30 were discharged after receiving treatment at the health center.