Contaminated Lunches Kill 22 Children in India

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  1. #1
    The Antithesis of Fun Feng's Avatar
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    Default Contaminated Lunches Kill 22 Children in India

    Horrifically sad testament for sanitary living conditions.


    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/18/world/asia/children-die-from-tainted-lunches-at-indian-school.html?ref=world&_r=0

    NEW DELHI — The children complained that the free lunch at their state school — rice, beans, potato curry and soy balls — tasted odd. The cook gave it a taste, too. Within half an hour they all began to suffer severe stomach pains followed by vomiting and diarrhea, and within hours at least 22 of the children were dead and dozens of others remained hospitalized, said officials in the northeastern state of Bihar.

    By nightfall on Wednesday, as angry protests broke out, officials said they believed they had found the cause: cooking oil stored in a container formerly used for insecticides.

    School lunch programs became universal in India after a 2001 order by the country’s Supreme Court, and free meals are now served to 120 million children — by far the largest such program in the world. It has been credited with improving school attendance, sometimes substantially. With some surveys suggesting that nearly half of Indian children suffer some form of malnutrition, it also serves a vital health purpose.

    But like so many government programs in India, it is plagued by corruption and mismanagement, and cases of tainted food are fairly routine.

    Also Wednesday, for example, 50 children in a school in the nearby Madhubani District reported falling ill after eating a school lunch that some complained contained a dead lizard, though all were sent home from a nearby clinic after a few hours of observation, said Lokesh Kumar Singh, the chief civil servant of the district.

    While it is still not entirely clear what happened in the village of Dharmasati Gandawa in Bihar’s Saran district, some element of cronyism may have been involved. As news of the tragedy spread, the school’s principal, who had bought the cooking oil from a store owned by her husband, disappeared and has not been seen since, officials said.

    But the episode also laid bare the almost complete failure of the state medical system to deal effectively with the crisis. Parents recounted nightmarish tales of sickness and desperate efforts to find medical care in facilities that were rapidly overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of children affected.

    Akilanand Mishra, the father of Ashish Kumar Mishra, 5, said he raced to the school after a neighbor told him something was wrong there.

    “I saw my son walking towards home, and I brought him back home quickly and took my bike and rushed him to the health center,” Mr. Mishra said in a telephone interview.

    During the trip, Ashish started throwing up, Mr. Mishra said. They arrived at the nearby primary health center and found it mobbed with children and families. There was only one doctor, and he began pleading with parents to take their children to the district government hospital.

    Mr. Mishra instead took his son to a nearby private clinic, which was similarly overrun with patients and panicked parents. By then, Ashish was suffering near-constant vomiting and diarrhea and was beginning to lose consciousness, Mr. Mishra said. The doctor (the vast majority of health care practitioners in India have no formal training whatsoever) injected the boy with something and insisted that he be taken to the government hospital.

    Instead, Mr. Mishra rushed to another nearby private clinic, which was also overrun. A government ambulance appeared, but there was no room for Ashish. So Mr. Mishra flagged down a private vehicle. They set off for the hospital, but after a few miles Ashish died in Mr. Mishra’s arms.

    “My son died around 4 p.m., and he was the second child to die,” said a weeping Mr. Mishra. “It was poison that the children ate, not food. Food contamination doesn’t happen that fast. It was poison.”

    Bacterial contamination, a common problem in India, generally takes at least a day to cause serious illness. Caroline Smith DeWaal, director of food safety for the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, said such episodes tend to happen in places where few things are thrown away, including containers. “Insecticide containers need to be marked that they should never be used again for food,” she said. “These kind of incidents are rare, and they are tragic when they happen.”

    By Wednesday, enraged residents of the village where the children were sickened began throwing rocks and sticks at government buildings, and burned four police vehicles. No one was hurt, said Shashi Singh, the village head.

    Officials said it was extremely difficult to maintain tight control of such a sprawling food program, one administered by so many people at the local level.

    “It is a very daunting task to provide freshly cooked quality meals in 73,000 schools,” said P. K. Shahi, minister of human resource development in Bihar. Many are involved in managing the food programs, including teachers, village elders and state officials, he said.

    “All these people look for easy money, and there is very little scope of making money without compromising the quality and quantity,” Mr. Shahi said. “It is just not possible to taste meals in all the 73,000 schools before children eat the food.”

    Mohan Gupta of the Iskcon Food Relief Foundation, a nonprofit organization that serves meals to more than 500,000 children in schools across central India but not in Bihar or neighboring Uttar Pradesh, said the food programs in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh had long been among the worst in India.

    The episode also demonstrates the appalling state of food safety and medical care in India. Since nearly all municipal water supplies are contaminated, food poisoning is routine. Government hospital and clinics are almost universally inadequate and in disrepair.

    Mr. Mishra complained bitterly about the runaround he got from government doctors. Dr. Shambhu Nath Singh, deputy superintendent of the government hospital in the Saran district, said many of the children who eventually found their way to his hospital were transferred to a hospital in the state capital, Patna, after parents complained that their children failed to improve. But he said the care he and his team delivered was top-notch.

    “We were fully prepared to treat them, and we did so,” Dr. Singh said. “The patients were improving, but after some time they started deteriorating. That’s a standard pattern to these kind of poisonings, but some local politicians started shouting and provoked the people so we had to transfer them.”

    Two children died during the trip to Patna, Dr. Singh said.

    The local police opened an investigation into the episode and were continuing the search for the school’s principal, Abhijit Sinha, the district’s chief civil servant, said in a phone interview.

    The episode could have national political repercussions. Bihar’s chief minister, Nitish Kumar, recently ended an alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party in an acrimonious parting of ways. He is now being wooed as a potential ally by the ruling Indian National Congress Party in advance of elections next year. Mr. Kumar has long been viewed as bringing fairly good governance to Bihar after decades of colossal mismanagement. This poisoning could tarnish that reputation.




  2. #2
    追放されたバカ Spyspotter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Contaminated Lunches Kill 22 Children in India

    Man, I thought the lunches in my school were bad…

  3. #3
    Yare Yare Daze Lysandre's Avatar
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    Default Re: Contaminated Lunches Kill 22 Children in India

    Wow. This is absolutely horrendous, will be praying for the families and protection of other kids there. I'll never complain about caf food again...

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