, NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 3 – The number of school going children feared to have consumed the aflatoxin contaminated Unimix during the Kenyans4Kenya initiative is more than 270,000 and not 60,000 as earlier thought.
Public Health Minister Beth Mugo said on Thursday that 726 schools had been supplied with the contaminated food at the time of the recall.
“My ministry in collaboration with the Kenya Red Cross Society and manufacturers are still recalling the consignment which was distributed irrespective of whether it is suspected to be contaminated or not,” the Public Health Minister said.
While issuing a ministerial statement in Parliament, Mugo blamed the Kenya Red Cross Society for failing to immediately inform the ministry about the contamination.
She said the ministry was notified of the contamination on October 6 by one of the manufacturers, Proctor & Allan.
The Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) is reported to have sampled the products on August 25 and submitted results to Kenya Red Cross on September 23.
However, the humanitarian agency did not immediately share the information with the ministry or the suppliers until October 12 when it was said to have informed Proctor & Allan.
“That means there was a lapse of three weeks or almost a whole month when this Unimix could have been withdrawn had Red Cross informed us immediately as the Ministry or informed the supplier which is a bit surprising,” Mugo said.
The minister said they had so far seized 183 metric tonnes of the contaminated food out of the 362 metric tonnes that had been recalled.
Unimix is an enriched maize and bean flour designed and used to fight malnutrition. It contains maize flour, soy beans, oil, milk powder, and sugar; plus vitamins and minerals.
Responding to a question by Ikolomani legislator Boni Khalwale on whether Kenya Red Cross Society Secretary General Abbas Gullet was a Director at Sai Millers (which he described as a briefcase company), the second company associated with the supply of the contaminated food, she said, “I haven’t myself taken interest in that, I don’t know who the directors of that company are.”
Dujis MP Adan Duale accused the minister of a cover up, saying no Public Health official had gone to test children in his constituency which had received the contaminated food.
“We have to appreciate that we don’t have enough personnel to cover the whole country at once,” the Minister said in defence.
Earlier, Proctor & Allan distanced itself from the scandal saying the food was safe at the time they dispatched it.
“We use a certified laboratory to test our aflatoxin and that laboratory is certified by KEBS so once we got the results, and we got the green light to manufacture, we went ahead to manufacture the Unimix,” Managing Director Judy Macharia said.
She also questioned why it had taken too long for the Kenya Red Cross to return the contaminated food to them for incineration and replacement.
“Once they (Kenya Red Cross) have collected, the onus is really on the distributor to then bring it back because they know where it is, I don’t. I have asked for it but am yet to receive that information,” she said.