Thirty-seven Grade 2 pupils were yesterday rushed to Mpilo Central Hospital after some of them started vomiting, apparently from food poisoning after eating poisonous Jatropha fruits.
Sources at Manondwane Primary School in Bulawayo’s Nketa 7 said 16 pupils ingested the toxic fruits at the school playground at around 10AM and the rest of the class was taken for treatment as a precaution.
“They were playing in their enclosed place where there are swings and slides. The place also has a Jatropha tree and some started eating the fruits,” a teacher told The Chronicle.
“After playing, they went for lessons and after some hours, one by one they started to vomit. “Their bewildered teacher ran to the office and reported the strange incident. Ambulances were called to the school.”
Some of the children, the source said, had soiled themselves and a majority were writhing in pain. A cacophony of sirens from five ambulances pierced the air in the normally peaceful Nketa 7 suburb in Bulawayo as the children were rushed to hospital.
As news of the incident spread through the suburb, panicking parents flocked to the school to determine if their children were safe. School authorities phoned those whose children were ferried to the hospital.
A Chronicle news crew visited the paediatric ward at the hospital yesterday afternoon. The ward was a hive of activity as nurses worked frantically to neutralise the toxin. One nurse came with a plastic pack filled with milk sachets as others gave the Grade 2B pupils cups to drink it up.
A number of children held receptacles into which they were vomiting. A nurse said milk is the recommended treatment to help neutralise the toxins in the Jatropha seeds. The Chronicle observed teachers showing the nurses some of the seeds that the children had consumed.
One of the parents of the children said they rushed to the hospital to see what had happened. “I was shocked to hear that they had eaten Jatropha and then I rushed to the hospital. Luckily she hadn’t eaten that much of the fruit and was given precautionary treatment,” said the parent.
He said the school should cut down the tree to prevent a repeat of the horror. “It’s scary to know that such dangerous trees exist in schools. Our kids’ are no longer safe and I hear that many schools planted them. They should just chop them down.”
The Chronicle arrived at the school as the headmaster, a H Ndlovu, was rushing out to send a report of the incident to the Bulawayo provincial education director Dan Moyo.
Moyo yesterday professed ignorance over the matter. “I’m in Kwekwe at the moment. I don’t know anything,” he said. Bulawayo police spokesperson Inspector Precious Simango said: “We’ve heard of the issue but the details are still coming in.”
A medical doctor who declined to be named for professional reasons said Jatropha is a multipurpose tree. The plant can be used to produce soap, lubricants, biodiesel and helps in soil conservation.
“When one ingests the seeds, which is never advisable, they will experience severe vomiting, loose stools and abdominal pain which can be fatal,” said the doctor.