15 March 2018

Southern Africa: Listeriosis Jolts Namibia Into Action

The health ministry yesterday said they had strengthened and intensified surveillance at all the borders and ordered a stop to the selling of ready-to-eat meat products after the detection of listeriosis in the country.

Health minister Bernard Haufiku told the National Assembly on Tuesday that they had detected a case of listeriosis at Tsumeb on 5 March 2018.

He said a 41-year-old man fell sick after eating a Vienna sausage he had bought from a butchery at the town. The unidentified man, Haufiku said, was then transferred to Windhoek on 12 March, and was by yesterday still in hospital.

The listeria bacteria cause listeriosis, contracted from consuming ready-to-eat meat products.

In South Africa, listeriosis has so far killed more than 180 people and left close to a 1 000 others sick since 2017.

Listeriosis is the clinical condition that results from human infection with the bacterium listeria monocytogenes.

The bacteria are found in the soil, water and some animals, including poultry and cattle.

It can be present in raw milk and foods made from raw milk, and can survive in food processing plants, and contaminate a variety of processed meats.

The symptoms are fever, diarrhoea, vomiting, muscle aches, headaches and confusion.

Newborn babies, pregnant women and those with an impaired immune system have been identified as being high-risk people.

In a statement yesterday, the health ministry's acting permanent secretary, Petronella Masabane, listed meat products including polony, Vienna and russian sausages, frankfurters and ham salamis from Rainbow Chickens and Enterprises Foods Ltd in Polokwane, Limpopo as the prime source of the recent outbreak of the disease.

She said the health ministry was working with the agriculture ministry and the finance ministry's customs and excise department to ensure that no cold meat products are brought into the country.

According to Masabane, the health ministry also issued an alert to all healthcare workers at hospitals and clinics as well as ports of entry to intensify surveillance, and to educate the public on what foods they should avoid.

The health ministry also recommended that vendors be advised to stop selling ready-to-eat meats, and that any person exhibiting listeriosis symptoms should urgently seek medical treatment.

The deputy director for public and environmental health, Benson Ntombwa, told The Namibian yesterday that not only were the prevention measures being done across the country, but all health inspectors in the 14 regions had been sent out into the field to check every settlement, village and small outlets such as cuca shops.

All the listed cold meats which may be found in the shops should be taken off the shelves, Ntombwa said, because of the risk.

"Those who have the information and continue to sell the products are doing something very wrong," he said, adding that the public should help the ministry to get the products off the shelves by alerting the authorities.

CLEARED

All the main supermarkets at Swakopmund have cleared their fridges and shelves of Enterprise cold meats and Rainbow Chicken's products.

Managers at Checkers, Spar, Woermann Brock, Shoprite and Pick n Pay told The Namibian yesterday that they had responded immediately to the directive from the ministry to remove the products.

The Namibian understands that some of the products that were recalled were disposed of by the Swakopmund municipality's health department.

An official at this department said he must have removed about 100 kilogrammes of meats and chicken, and burned them at a special site near the Swakopmund landfill.

"These are contaminated substances, so we cannot just throw them away. They had to be destroyed," the official said. "It's all clear here. Everyone complied. No one wants to take chances."

Concerned members of the public pointed out that some of the shops at Swakopmund were still selling Enterprise canned meat.

Managers, however, said the directive was only for fresh meats because the canned products apparently go through a serious sterilisation process, which allegedly makes it impossible for any bacteria to survive.

"The packaging is completely different from that of fresh meats. The canned meats are safe," one manager said, and his comment was echoed by the others.

//Karas regional health director Bartholomeus Muntenda said health officials started visiting shops across the region yesterday to inspect that processed meat linked to listeriosis had been removed from the shelves.

"We have ordered the health officials to start inspections. As we speak, they are on the ground," he stated.

Muntenda added that municipal health officers in urban towns such as Keetmanshoop, Karasburg and Lüderitz would ensure that Listeria-contaminated food products were taken off the shelves.

"That's the only complication. Our health officials will only oversee this is being done," he said, adding that food outlets should also assist the health ministry by removing the targeted meat products themselves.

A snap inspection by The Namibian found products manufactured by Rainbow Chickens and Enterprise Food Ltd had been removed from the shelves of Keetmanshoop retail shops such as Pick n Pay, Shoprite and Woermann Brock.

Pick n Pay Keetmanshoop branch assistant manager Ambrosius Nameya told The Namibian that the products in question were removed from the shelves about two weeks back.

Shoprite Keetmanshoop trainee branch manager Avra Coetzee said they removed the listeriosis-linked products from the shelves a week ago.

Oshana regional health director Johanna Haimene said environmental health officers were by yesterday busy visiting shops to remove the targeted meat products.

Haimene said they were also educating the public, especially in hospitals, at the retailers, and where large masses gather not to consume the contaminated products.

"We are working on a strategy on how to reach the wider population, perhaps have a slot on the radio," she said.

Oshikoto regional health director Angala Angala said shops had already been instructed to remove the items since the outbreak was reported in South Africa.

"If people find any shop with those items, they should contact me," he said, adding that they too have sent out health inspectors to make sure shops comply.

A visit to some shops around Ongwediva and Oshakati showed that the shops had removed the items linked to the disease from their shelves.

Samuel Wilbard, a manager for Oyetu Shoprite at Oshakati, said all managers received instructions from the managing director to remove the meat products when the outbreak in South Africa was reported.

"It was repeated today that we must make sure the back stock items are also removed. Namdairy and Hartlief products are safe. They are made in Namibia," Wilbard said.

CONCERN

Members of the public have raised concern over the ready-to-eat meat products sold by street vendors in two-dollar portions.

A street vendor who sells the ready-to-eat meat products in Katutura, Jephta ya Simon, told The Namibian yesterday that he knows about the "polony disease", but that his meat is not affected as it is "not from South Africa".

"I buy my meat from Ready Bites meat market, and not from South Africa," Simon stated.

Country area manager for Mama Fresh, Elsi Heita, said she received at least 15 phone calls yesterday from people asking her about their products and listeriosis.

She said while the health minister explained what the disease is, it appears many people do not understand how people get infected.

"Our polony is free from that. Yes, it is correct that we get our polony from South Africa, but it has been cleared," Heita said.

- Additional reporting by Adam Hartman, Luqman Cloete and Tuyeimo Haidula

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