UGANDA – A new study has revealed that populations living in Kampala and its surroundings are at a high risk of contracting liver diseases due to consuming foods contaminated with poisonous content.
According to a report launched by the Ministry of Health on Tuesday, vegetables sold around Kampala markets were contaminated with lead, a metal substance that is harmful to the liver.
“Levels of Lead in urban vegetables (cabbages, carrots, Cauliflower, cucumber, tomatoes, sweet potatos, yams, eggplants, and pumpkins) ranged between 0.57-5.07mg/kg”, the report reads in part.
Also positive with aflatoxin content were maize, ground nuts, cassava chips, soybean, fish (mukene/ silver fish) and sunflower.
The study indicates that Lead content in vegetables grown alongside highways ranged between 0.53-0.95mg/kg, which is by far above the international Codex maximum limit of 0.1 mg/kg.
Dr Ben Manyindo of Uganda National Bureau of Standards, (UNBS) said a few years back, Uganda was using leaded fuel, after the chemical combustion within the engines, Lead particles could be released through the exhaust pipes in form of soot.
He added that crops along the roadsides, most especially near urban centres were highly affected thus the samples showing the Lead content in the vegetables. The report indicates that high aflatoxin levels in food are related to liver cancer (Hepatocellular Carcinoma).
Dr Manyindo however said the aflatoxin levels in the foods consumed in Uganda are still in low and manageable levels. The report states that in most foods tested, the aflatoxin concentration ranged with a mean of 15.7+ or -4.7 ppb, which points to a substantial risk to the population.
Dr Manyindo explains that aflatoxin, in simpler terms refers to the process of mould growth on crops such as cassava, maize that have been poorly dried or not properly stored. The dark substance that develops around the cassava is referred to as aflatoxin.
“Once these moulds are consumed into the human body, they can lead to cancer,” Dr Manyindo says.
However, Dr Jane Aceng, the director general health services disagrees.
She said aflatoxins are only associated with liver cancer but not the major cause.
“Liver cancer is caused by the hepatitis virus in human beings. Our role as the ministry is to give the public, health education about the issues surrounding food safety. It is the mandate of UNBS to ensure foodstuffs do not exceed required aflatoxin levels,” she said.
She added that it is hard to regulate foods that are grown on a subsistence level but those for commercial consumption should meet the food safety standards to be allowed on the market.
“In each food that is consumed there are some safety levels of contaminants which are allowed but if they go beyond the required levels without being mitigated, those toxins become harmful to the body,” added Dr Manyindo, while responding to the high levels of toxins in the Murchison Bay cited in the report.
He added that food can be contaminated at every stage of the value and production chain.
At the farm level, there is contamination in form of chemicals sprayed, contamination can also occur at the market gate or at the industry.
“The ordinary person does not know these things (contaminants) but the various stake holders should take the findings of the report very seriously, take more samples to the laboratory and come up with the measures to ensure food safety,” said Dr Manyindo.