The Childcare and Orientation Centre in Soweto where children showed symptoms of listeriosis.Picture: Nhlanhla Phillips/African News Agency (ANA)

When staff at a Soweto child centre, where Elizabeth Booth’s five-year-old son attends, phoned her and told her to hurry up and meet her at a local clinic, she panicked.

Upon arrival at the clinic, a doctor told her they were suspecting food poisoning. The doctor suspected the child had contracted listeriosis, so the boy was transferred to Chris Hani Baragwanath.

Booth was terrified, and her fears were later confirmed when the child tested positive for the disease.

Her son is one of nine infants at the Child Care Orientation Centre in Klipspruit, who survived the listeriosis epidemic in January.

“I had heard about the disease from the post we get from WhatsApp, but I didn’t know the actual cause. I heard that it was a deadly disease,” Booth said. Enterprise Foods has been identified as the source of the deadly epidemic.

“I think they should close it. It has caused a lot of loss of life due to its (Enterprise Foods) carelessness,” she said.

Experts say South Africa has had the biggest listeriosis outbreak in the world that has claimed 183 lives countrywide, 78 of whom were infants. Most of the deaths occurred in Gauteng but health officials say they still don’t have accurate figures.

Booth said her son had developed fever and she was relieved when told her he was responding well to treatment. She is grateful to the doctors and nurses for their proactive measures.By the time they found the disease in the child’s blood, the treatment had already been working and the children were responding well.

“So, I was relieved that the doctors and nurses took control of the situation immediately before it got out of hand,” said Booth whose son was now doing well and back at the crèche.

“I do not blame the crèche for what’s happened, it could’ve happened to anyone, anywhere. For me this is one of the best crèches we have in our area,” she said.

Shereen Louw, who is one of the affected parents, vowed that her 3-year-old son would never eat polony again.

“When he gets older, I will explain to him I almost lost him because of polony when he was young,” said Louw, adding that she was still traumatised. “When the children arrived at Bara, my son started suffering from diarrhea. I was getting so worried but the doctors assured me that my son would be all right,” she said, adding that the companies responsible should be punished.

She wants compensation for emotional and psychological trauma.

“I want to see justice done. My son spent more than five days at the hospital. So many people died because of the carelessness of these people. These companies have to severely pay for what they did,” she said.

The owner of the centre, Momi Oliphant confirmed that the children had eaten Enterprise Foods brand polony when they started getting sick. Last week, Gauteng Health MEC Gwen Ramokgopa visited the centre and thanked the clinic staff for taking the children to the clinic.

Ramokgopa said the department had traced the source of the disease after the learners were admitted to Bara.

The Sunday Independent