Poisoned wheat kills 10, sickens 100 in Afghanistan: officials
Thu Apr 17, 1:22 PM ET
KABUL (AFP) – Ten Afghans have died and more than 100 have fallen ill with liver disease after eating wheat contaminated with a poisonous plant, heightening food insecurity in the country, officials said Thursday.
The plant, known locally as Charmak, grows in wheat fields and was harvested at the same time in the remote Gulran district in western Herat province bordering Iran, said health officials.
A similar outbreak of the disease in Afghanistan in 1974 killed dozens of people. There have also been cases in India and some central Asian nations in recent years.
“Yes, I confirm more than 100 people have been affected and 10 people have died. We learnt about it in early February,” public health ministry spokesman Abdullah Fahim told AFP.
“This is the second outbreak of the disease since 1974. It’s caused by eating a certain plant that grows in the wheat fields,” said Fahim, who is also a medical doctor.
The condition is caused by alkaloids in plants from several herbs, including comfrey, formerly used to make a popular herbal tea in many parts of the world.
People who consume them develop liver disease and many die while others suffer long-term health problems.
“Back then (in 1974) the plant was eliminated and the people were told to not consume it. I think it has come back,” he said.
Ghulam Sayed Rashid, head of the provincial health department, also confirmed that about 10 people had died from the disease and that his department was working to curb the epidemic.
“What we’ve done in an emergency response to the outbreak is we have told people to stop consuming the wheat from their own district which is likely to be containing the poison,” he told AFP.
The Afghan Red Crescent Society in Herat said it had distributed wheat to local residents.
Aid officials said earlier this week that in response to growing food insecurity, they had stepped up assistance to more than two million Afghans in recent months.
In recent months, bad harvests, rising global population and the development of biofuels have all contributed to rapid rises in global food prices.