Govt must live up to it’s mandate and tackle the nodding disease

Friday January 27 2012

By Harriet Anena

Just like the government is scratching its head to figure out the cause of the nodding disease, currently tormenting about 3,000 children in the Acholi Sub-region, I am scratching mine to understand how that government, more than five years later, fails to diagnose that ailment.

At least 200 children have died of the disease; parents are desperate with some tying their children on pillars so they do not fall into fire or water during seizure attacks.

The sight of malnourished children, with saliva dripping from their mouths, heads nodding each time food is presented to them, should have moved a government that has a heart and conscience.

But, no! All our people can get is epilepsy drugs, which medical personnel say should only be given to children presenting severe symptoms to avoid adverse side effects. What about children with ‘mild’ symptoms? Should they wait until the severe signs present themselves before they can be put on the nodding-controlling drugs?

Should our children continue taking drugs for a disease that is not diagnosed? What if the side effects become adverse as medical personnel warn; shall the government be bold enough to say it tried to help its citizens?

What government is doing is giving our children snakes, when they actually need fish; but for how long shall this go on?
Should parents continue to watch as their children nod to their death, because the government is still waiting for test samples sent to Atlanta, US?

More than 1,000 children have dropped out of school since the disease outbreak due to reduced concentration in class, mental retardation, and stigma. What will parents, whose hopes for a brighter tomorrow, were banked on the education of their children do?

It is barely two years since people, who were displaced by the two-decade Lord’s Resistance Army insurgency, left IDP camps for their villages.

Hope and expectations of life devoid of gunshots, abductions, killings and raids, was high on the minds of thousands of people who survived the atrocity.

Gardens were ploughed, huts erected, village roads cleared and children washed clean for school. But hardly had parents harvested their crops, and the children grasped what teachers are saying, than the disease struck.

What will be the use of the Peace, Recovery and Development Plan, if parents cannot participate in its implementation because they are stuck at home with children needing their attention?

Even with the rampant claims of funds mismanagement of the National Agricultural Advisory Services, people in the north would have had a small share of that programme; but will that be possible with the disease that has made both children and parents sick?

The Health ministry should stop making barren promises of putting up care centres for the children, let the ministry not stop at visiting the sick, but find the cause of the nodding disease as a matter of urgency.

Let the ministry stop calling press conferences to announce incessant deadlines for ‘comprehensive interventions’ but give Ugandans the results of test samples sent abroad.

Let us not read again in the media the director general of health services, Jane Aceng, saying “all necessary treatment has been going on –only this time we are beefing up”, but let her tell us what actually causes the disease and how it can essentially be treated.

Let us not again read Dr Anthony Mbonye, the commissioner of health services, citing lack of funds as the cause of the sluggish government response to the ailment, but see government allocating a supplementary budget to address this malady.

Above all, let the government, which prides of being elected by 68 per cent of Ugandans, own up to its mandate of ensuring health service provision to its citizens.

Unless, as leaders, we stop dancing with muchomo sticks in our hands and tackle the nodding disease with the urgency it deserves, the Acholi sub-region will continue to salivate in pain.

Ms Anena is a journalist.
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