Fifteen farmworkers from Elchamus Ward in Baringo South on Friday, December 13, ate githeri that contained organophosphates, a medical doctor at the Kabarnet County Referral Hospital told K24 Digital on Saturday evening.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), organophosphates are a group of human-made chemicals that poison insects and mammals.
Dr. Hellen Mumbi of Kabarnet Hospital said three of the 15 patients, who were taken to the medical facility from Marigat Hospital, died as a result of the organophosphate poisoning.
Mumbi further revealed that four of the patients were transferred to the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital, whereas eight, who are still admitted at the Kabarnet Hospital, are in “fairly stable conditions”.
“One of the patients died on Friday night. The second one succumbed to the poisoning on Saturday morning, whereas the third lost his life on Saturday afternoon,” said Dr. Mumbi.
“All the patients were unconscious when they were brought to Kabarnet Hospital on Friday evening. We examined them, and based on the symptoms that they exhibited, we established that they suffered organophosphate poisoning. We first stabilised the patients before embarking on measures to reverse the effects of the poisoning,” said Dr. Mumbi.
Known as organophosphates, the pesticides were developed in Germany in the 1940s and soon became an important defense against agricultural pests, says the National Geographic.
Organophosphates are the most widely used insecticides today. They are used in agriculture, homes, gardens, and veterinary practice.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says organophosphate insecticides (such as diazinon) are one type of pesticide that works by damaging an enzyme in the body called acetylcholinesterase.
“This enzyme is critical for controlling nerve signals in the body. The damage to this enzyme kills pests and may cause unwanted side effects in exposed humans. All organophosphates have a common mechanism of toxicity and can cause similar symptoms in humans who have too much exposure,” says the CDC.
-Symptoms of organophosphate poisoning-
Symptoms of sudden poisoning by organophosphates start during or after exposure, depending on how the poison is contacted.
Symptoms start fastest after organophosphates are breathed, and next by eating or drinking contaminated food or water or getting them on your skin.
Some symptoms are headache, dizziness, weakness, diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting, salivation, watery eyes, and small pupils. Severe symptoms are seizures, slow pulse, difficulty breathing, and coma, says the CDC.
Long after exposure, people can also develop nervous system problems such as muscle weakness and numbness and tingling of the hands and feet (neuropathy).
“Long-term exposure to organophosphates can cause confusion, anxiety, loss of memory, loss of appetite, disorientation, depression, and personality changes,” says the CDC.
Victims of organophosphate poisoning typically die because they can’t breathe. The risk of death depends on the amount of exposure and the age of the victim. The symptoms tend to be more severe in young children, says the National Geographic.
-Baringo farmworkers’ exposure to organophosphates-
On Friday, December 13, 15 farmworkers, who were tilling a private land in Elchamus Ward in Baringo South, were admitted to various hospitals after they consumed githeri that was poisoned.
Seven of the patients, who were critically ill, were taken to Kabarnet County Referral Hospital on Friday afternoon.
The other eight, who had less severe symptoms, were taken to Marigat Hospital, but later transferred to Kabarnet Hospital.
Passersby, who were heading to unspecified destinations at 11am Friday, found the 15 writhing in pain on the farm as they clutched their stomachs.
“Some were vomiting, others had severe diarrhoea,” a witness told K24 Digital.
“Sensing that the victims could lose their lives if urgent help did not come their way, we stopped a Red Cross van that was heading to other parts of Baringo to help flood victims,” said the informant.
The Red Cross vehicle took the 15 to the different mentioned hospitals.
It remains unclear how the poison ended up in the farmworkers’ food.
The meal was prepared in the farm owner’s homestead, K24 Digital was told. The farm owner, who has allegedly gone missing, is yet to be arrested.
Police said investigations into the incident had begun.