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Ugandans pull Kony spotlight to mysterious nodding disease

March 14, 2012 | 10:58 am


In the flurry of attention that a viral video on notorious militia leader Joseph Kony has drawn to Uganda, some Ugandans are trying to divert the international spotlight to nodding disease, a fatal and mysterious illness that plagues thousands of children in the East African country.

“This is the real battle in [Northern] Uganda,” tweeted Rosebell Kagumire, a Ugandan journalist who was critical of the Invisible Children video campaign to catch Kony. 

The syndrome comes with a strange and baffling set of symptoms. African health authorities say children who suffer nodding disease are struck with nodding seizures when they spot food or feel cold, the World Health Organization reports. Their growth is stunted. Victims are prone to head injuries because severe seizures cause them to fall.

Some children also are reported to suffer deteriorating brain function. With Ugandan hospitals wracked by warfare, many parents are painfully forced to tie their children to trees, Kagumire wrote.

The disease was first seen in Uganda nine years ago. As of February, the World Health Organization reported more than 3,000 suspected cases in Uganda, mainly among children from ages 5 to 15. It also said that 170 deaths had been reported.

The disease has also been reported in Liberia and South Sudan, where thousands of cases are believed to occur. The disease was first spotted in 1962 in Tanzania. Yet so far, its causes have eluded researchers.

Ugandans have been frustrated by seemingly slow government response to the illness, the Daily Monitor reported late last year; the country reportedly opened its first clinics specifically to treat it just this week. Epilepsy drugs can help treat the syndrome.

For more on nodding disease, you can watch the short film above created in 2010 by the news service of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.


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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Video: Nodding disease afflicts children in Uganda, South Sudan, Liberia and Tanzania. Credit: IRIN / United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs