Attorney General files defence over nodding disease

Monday July 2 2012

Children suffering from the nodding disease in kitgum District recently.

Children suffering from the nodding disease in kitgum District recently. The disease has since spread to Lamwo, Kitgum, Pader, Gulu, Amuru and Lira infecting more than 5,000 children and killing about 400 others since its outbreak in 2006. PHOTO BY stephen otage. 



The Attorney General has filed a defence asking the High Court in Gulu District to dismiss a case with costs lodged against government on May 21, seeking compensation for nodding disease victims without quoting the amount the government wants.

Mr Peter Nyombi instituted the defence on June 20, 15 days later after the expiry of the stipulated period in which he was expected to defend the government. His action comes after Health Watch Uganda, a civil society organisation seeking justice for nodding disease victims, sought the court’s approval to continue with the case in the absence of the government.

The organisation, which accuses government of violating the right to health of children in the affected districts of Gulu, Kitgum, Pader and Amuru, is asking government to pay at least Shs21 billion for the 205 children killed by the disease.

Little is currently known about the causes of nodding disease but government’s response to the outbreak has been widely criticised as sluggish. Health Watch Uganda wants a court order directing government to put in place adequate effective medical facilities to treat and control the spread of nodding disease in and out of the affected areas.

The plaintiff is also seeking for a declaration that the defendant is violating the right to health of children below the age of 15 living in northern Uganda who are affected and those who are at risk of being affected by the disease.
In his defence seen by this newspaper, Mr Nyombi said government “has used both the community response and clinical response in combating nodding disease in northern Uganda. “Under community approach, the department of National Disease Control has/is conducting number of field investigations together with partners like World Health Organisation... and UNICEF,” he said.

Under clinical approach, he claims the department of clinical services instituted a committee of local experts to conduct investigations into the strange condition in Pader in Bolo, Lapulcwida and Bur Lobo camp villages.
But Health Watch Uganda’s lawyer Adam Makmot Kibwanga said all actual responses started in March, six years after the disease was first noticed.

“In January, the Ministry of Health had a meeting with district leaders from Acholi sub-region together with Acholi Parliamentary Group in Kitgum Town, to build a consensus and ownership of the amended national response plan on nodding disease,” Mr Nyombi said.

When contacted, Mr Kibwanga said: “We are soon setting a hearing date and we are hoping to consolidate our case with that of the (other) two MPs.” MPs Beatrice Anywar (Kitgum Woman) and Mr Gilbert Olanya (Kilak County) have joined Health Watch- Uganda in their quest for “justice” for nodding disease victims.