The blame game over our lack of national attention to the incurable nodding disease syndrome must stop. In December 2015, the mystic, but debilitating condition became campaign stamp speeches for both NRM and FDC presidential candidates in Acholi. We then stridently warned the politicians in an editorial to ‘Stop riding on pains of nodding disease’.
But this week, the Acholi Parliamentary Group took issues with government, accusing it of neglect and lack of financing the treatment centres. But government in response blasted chief administrative officers for lack of accountability for the monies it sent.
Yet through all these spats, the nodding syndrome has since 2012 ruined the lives of at least 2,143 Ugandan children, and killed at least 137 by modest government estimates. In Omoro District alone, at least 229 cases of the syndrome were registered in 2012 and 22 children have since died.
For this toll, Health minister Ruth Aceng, on behalf of government, should be more rueful than defensive. The recent NTV story she picks fault with is no doubt damning. But it’s inconsequential whether the reporter visited only 5 per cent of the victims whose condition have now dropped to brain damage.
Even if the minister was right that no new cases have been reported since 2012, the children’s condition remains one of extreme pain. In recent weeks, at least five more have drowned, while another four have been reported raped and defiled in Omoro District, in the last two months.
Some of these victims are those who have been reintegrated into communities, but have relapsed due to poor living condition.
Their plight is worsened by the withdrawal of Hope for Humans, a non-governmental organisation that used to provide medical and personal care, special schooling, and nutritious meals to the children. As we emphasised last week in another editorial, at least 29 children have been left stranded at the centre and another 237 rehabilitated and sent back home are without the requisite care.
This situation urgently demands that government reviews its response and scales upwards the funding for these vulnerable children so that they can stay at the treatment centres, or are given ample support upon reintegration into communities.
Meanwhile, nothing short of drastic measures should be applied to the willful neglect of district officials in Acholi, who have failed to account for more than Shs237 million meant to respond to this torturous condition in the financial year 2015/2016.
For now, not even the Centres for Disease Control in Atlanta, USA, has not established any concrete causes of the nodding disease syndrome, but we can collectively without the blame game lessen the pain and make life more bearable for these affiliated children.