Yangchen C Rinzin

Since February 1, more than 500 students have been reported suffering glossitis in 11 schools and are being investigated, according to the Royal Centre for Disease Control (RCDC).

A team comprising of officials from health and education ministry is still investigating as to what caused glossitis outbreak in many schools across the country. 

The team so far has been unable to confirm the cause.

A member of the team said that the team would carry out research to find a long-term solution to ensure that other students do not suffer from the same disease.

Schools like Rangjung Central School in Trashigang, Zhemgang Central School, and Tsenkharla Central School in Trashiyangtse reported more than 100 students with glossitis. Other schools have at least 40 students suffering from glossitis.

Although the investigation is still on, the team suspects the deficiency of B2, one of the components of Vitamin B Complex.

“This is because we had given B2 supplements to those affected students and they have shown recovery in last few weeks,” a member said. “We suspect B2 because the only vitamin that is missing in the fortified rice provided to students in schools is B2.”

The team has also purchased additional 10,000 B2 supplements to distribute to those affected schools. The team would use the supplements during its investigation.

“We’re also recommending for mass distribution where discussion with development partners is on to get the supplements,” a team member said. “Normally, one can consume meat, lentils, whole grains, nuts, peas, and fruits to get B2.”

After inspecting the kitchen and meals given to students, the team ruled out adulteration of fortified rice or lentils, the first suspect when the disease outbreak was reported. The nutrition division of education ministry also changed the lentils.

“Students were diagnosed with glossitis even after the supply of lentils was changed,” the official said.

The team also ruled out fungal infection in stored food items and water as likely causes.

“It wasn’t due to water since glossitis was reported sporadically from different places,” the official said.

The team suspects the students may not have eaten the food varieties they were served in school while they were at home after schools remained closed.

“Students did not have access to especially fortified rice that has proven to minimise cases of peripheral Neuropathy since its introduction,” a team member said. “More than 80 percent of the students were non-vegetarians in the case of Trashiyangtse students, but they did not remember the last time they had meat.”

This, he said, indicates inaccessibility to varieties of food in remote areas and that there is a need to improve food basket in the school feeding programme. “It’s not easy to add B2 in the fortified rice, and we must look into alternatives.”

Students today are given folic acid and iron tablets in schools.

However, an official added that glossitis is not a big concern compared to Neuropathy and that glossitis is preventable and curable. “There’re many other possible causes, but in our case, we have for now narrowed it down to B2 deficiency after a lot of study and discussion.”