UN health workers monitor free school meals in Dominican Republic after students sickened

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (AP) — International health officials on Monday began monitoring free school breakfasts given to poor students in Dominican public schools after dozens of youngsters fell ill for unknown reasons.

The illnesses occurred in three schools earlier this year, and the meals were suspended for three months in the Caribbean nation.

Anselmo Aburto, a nutrition consultant for the Pan American Health Organization, said several U.N. agencies are monitoring the meals to ensure youngsters don't get sick now that they are again getting subsidized milk, juice, bread and plantain puree.

"We are going to do a thorough analysis of the foods and will create a permanent system of vigilance," Aburto said as poor students started receiving subsidized breakfasts Monday after the three-month break.

The problem began in February, when about 40 students fell ill at a school in the country's northern region. In March, 42 students fell sick at another school in a town northwest of the capital, and the next month 56 students at a third school in a northern town were sickened, at least three of whom were hospitalized for more than a day.

Government officials thought the milk was to blame and banned it from meals in late April. But students kept getting sick, and initial lab tests showed no problems with it.

(This version CORRECTS that illness outbreak in third school was in April rather than last month.)