Turtle dish claims four children in west Sumatra

INDONESIA - Four children in the Sao hamlet in Bosua village, Sipora Selatan district, Mentawai Islands regency, West Sumatra, died after they ate a turtle. Meanwhile, 25 others are currently receiving medical treatment at Tuapejat Regional Hospital (RSUD).

"They have been poisoned with the turtle meat after they ate it together. Overall, 148 local residents in Sao hamlet have been poisoned, but children have suffered the most," Warta Siritoitet, the Mentawai Islands administration's head of health, told The Jakarta Post over the phone, on Wednesday.

Locals in Sao hamlet on Sipora Island caught a turtle on Saturday. The turtle meat was then distributed to all families in the island, according with tradition. On the following day, people, especially children, who ate the turtle meat suffered from stomach ache.

"Their parents first thought that the children were overly full. But they were then brought to a nearby community health centre (Puskesmas) after their condition continued to worsen," said Warta.

Joas, a 7 year-old-boy, died while he was undergoing treatment at Puskesmas Sioban, on Monday. Erwin, another victim who was only 11 months old, was also killed from poisoning after being breastfed by his mother who was also poisoned.

"Two other boys, Maikel, 3, and Atmojo, 11, died after they were rushed to RSUD Tuapejat on Tuesday," said Warta.

Among 25 people currently being treated at RSUD Tuapejat is an 8-month old baby who is in a critical condition.

Warta said that food samples would be sent to the Regional Health Laboratory in Padang to reveal the causes of poisoning.

Deputy Mentawai Islands Regent, Rijel Samaloisa, said he would issue a circular again, urging local people not to consume turtles. A circular had previously been issued and sent to local people but many of them did not care.

"Catching and consuming turtle meat together has long been a tradition among local communities in Mentawai. It has been traditionally served as a main dish at wedding parties. So, it is quite difficult to stop such a habit," said Rijel, while mentioning that religious and local leaders would be involved in the effort to stop the turtle consuming habit among local people.