Mukumu Girls fatal food poisoning case moves to court

Families of three students and a teacher who died after an outbreak of food and water poisoning at Sacred Heart Mukumu Girls have sued the institution's management for alleged negligence.

The families are seeking compensation for the deaths and have accused the school's principal and board of failing to ensure the safety and proper care of the students and their teachers.

The case has been filed at the Kakamega Chief Magistrate's Court. The families are represented by lawyers Abel Nyaberi and Ronald Makonjio.

The families are accusing the school's management and principal of blatant negligence and disregard for the safety and care of pupils and teachers, resulting in the deaths of four people.

“We have been instructed by families of two deceased students and a teacher who died from Mukumu Girls to sue the institution. We served the school management with demand letters on July 6, 2023,” said Mr Nyaberi. 

The plaintiffs said the deaths were the result of negligence and deliberate dereliction of duty that led to members of the school consuming contaminated food.

The families want the school to compensate them for exposing their loved ones to contaminated food.

In court papers, they say their children were healthy and had promising futures as important citizens, but their lives were blatantly cut short by the school's negligence.

Mr Nyaberi said the evidence before them showed overwhelming criminal culpability.

"We have advised the family to write to the institutions mandated by the Constitution to participate in criminal proceedings — the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the National Police Service — to remind them of their responsibilities and mandate. If they fail to do so, we will apply for private prosecutions," Mr Nyaberi added.

In addition to the four deaths, 124 other students were admitted to Kakamega County General Hospital with suspected food and water poisoning.

On April 3, the school was closed by Kakamega health officials after more than 500 people were infected with the bacteria.

A post-mortem by government pathologist Titus Ngulungu, on one of the Form One pupils, Wendy Abetty, revealed that she died of shock to vital organs as a result of infections in her stomach.

Another report from LifeCare Speciality Hospital in Eldoret indicated that teacher Julian Mujema, the boarding mistress of the school, died of multiple organ failure.

Mujema was admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU) at LifeCare Speciality Hospital with acute kidney and liver failure.

Health Cabinet Secretary Susan Nakhumicha, who visited the school, said preliminary tests on samples sent to the Kenya Medical Research Institute laboratory in Kisumu tested positive for bacterial infections linked to gastroenteritis, a bacterial infection that causes diarrhoea and vomiting.

She said some pupils had been infected with Salmonella typhii — a bacterium that causes typhoid fever, and amoebiasis — a parasitic infection of the intestines that causes stomach pain and diarrhoea.

Following the outbreak, a total of 446 bags of condemned maize, 284 bags of beans and 83 bags of rice from Mukumu Girls' stores were destroyed by incineration in the Rotary kiln in Bamburi, Mombasa.

Ms Viviane Komwonyo, the Kakamega County prosecutor, had confirmed on April 28, 2023, that the grains were found by a public health laboratory to be unfit for human consumption because they contained high levels of the life-threatening chemical malathion.

A certificate of analysis from the government chemist also confirmed that the food samples contained malathion chemicals.

"I am of the opinion that the level of malathion does not comply with the regulation (Codex Pesticides Database)," said Mr Joram Chelashaw, the public analyst.