Monday September 19 2011

Cultural beliefs hamper cure of babies with brain ‘swelling’

By Sam Lawino


When Filder Akwongo of Palaro Rajab Village in Bungatira Sub-county, Gulu gave birth to a bouncing baby boy 11 years ago, she noticed an abnormal feature, it had a ‘big’ head.

The condition was a shock to Ms Akwongo since no known member of her immediate family had suffered from it before. Ms Akwongo and her baby have since turned into objects of ridicule and rejection in the neighbourhood.“Whenever he moves in the neighbourhood, children insult him and say he is ugly,” the mother said over the weekend in an interview with Daily Monitor. She debated whether to seek help of traditional herbalists but feared they would charge a high consultation fee. When they found out, they advised her to keep the child away from the public.

Ms Akwongo’s pain shows what most mothers go through with children suffering a medical condition called hydrocephalus. Hydrocephalus, is an abnormal accumulation of fluid in the ventricles and may be caused by increased pressure inside the skull and progressive enlargement of the head, convulsion, tunnel vision and mental disability.

Ms Wilfred Acirocan, another mother in Bungatira Sub-county, has become a social misfit in her community. Her mother-in-law considers her two-year-old daughter, an outcast and wishes that she was dead. Most people in the region feel such the condition is caused by spirits of elders trying to ‘resurrect’ from their graves. Although it can be cured surgically, hydrocephalus can also cause death.

Medics have rubbished the connection of hydrocephalus to spirits. “These are women who did not take folic acid during antenatal care and delayed to come for checkup thus placing their children at risk,” says Mr Emmanuel Kalanzi, an orthopedic, in Gulu Referral Hospital.

Most of the children from Gulu are taken for surgery at Mbale’s Cure Clinic. However, because most parents cannot afford Shs750,000 for treatment, AVSI, an NGO operating in Gulu has been footing most of the bills.

Treatment includes placing a shunt to drain the fluid, but inevitably these shunts become plugged and require emergency care, not always available in rural Africa and other resource-limited regions. Mr Kalianzi says diverting fluid buildup internally in such children does not fix previous infection damage to the brain.