Hope fades as nodding disease efforts fail

Monday July 9 2012

By Yasiin Mugerwa

For the hundreds of children affected by the mysterious nodding disease in northern Uganda, the ray of hope for a cure seems to be fading.

Experts from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention headquarters in Atlanta and from the World Health Organisation have told Daily Monitor that it “may” take long to find a cure for the disease that has so far killed more than 200 children.

The revelation further upset government efforts to crush mounting pressure from Acholi elders and politicians who want the area declared a disaster area. The move is intended to drum up international attention in an attempt to help the victims.

“We acknowledge the frustration many parents feel but it may take a long time to solve to mystery,” Dr Scott Dowell the Director of CDC’s Global Detection Division and Emergency Response wrote to Daily Monitor at the weekend.

Dr Dowell, however, said CDC is working with the Ministry of Health to find a cure for as long as it takes.
To help the children meanwhile, Dr Dowell said: “What we do know is that nodding disease is a form of epilepsy so we are recommending giving anti-epileptic medicines and nutritional supplements as treatments.”

“However, there is no clear evidence about what works best or if any of it is really effective. That is why our next priority is to launch a controlled treatment trial as soon as we get approval from our ethics board,” he added.

The nodding disease has eluded many researchers, remains a misery as no cause has been discovered. Comments from the CDC chief came at a time when a group of legislators led by Mr Medard Bitekyerezo (NRM, Mbarara), are demanding the release of the CDC report on the nodding disease, with hope for relevant findings.

Since last year, a team of researchers from Atlanta have been researching on the cause of the disease but have not yet made their findings public.

Haunted by the disease and news of no progress, villagers in Acholi Sub-region have turned to traditional healers like Alfred Ojara.
Latest reports from Kitgum and Pader, the worst affected districts, indicate that two more nodding children died in April while the number of those affected increased after 388 new cases were registered between March and April.

This brought the death toll to 205 while the number of the affected children is 3,526, according to data from the Ministry of Health, although the WHO country representative, Dr Joaquim Saweka, says the number of affected children is about 5,000 in 1,633 households in the four affected districts, including Lamwo and Gulu.