Posted at 11:41 AM ET, 03/13/2012

Forget Joseph Kony. What Ugandan children fear is the ‘nodding disease’

In northern Uganda, which was ravaged by two decades of war, people do not understand the hubbub around Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). The very viral campaign to capture Kony by the nonprofit Invisible Children has largely been a U.S. phenomenon. Ugandans say the LRA has not been active for years.


Children suffering from “the nodding disease” gather in Akoya-Lamin Omony village in a northern district of Uganda in February. (JAMES AKENA - REUTERS)
What the population — including its children — fear instead is a syndrome called the “nodding disease,” whose origin is unknown and which has no known cure. Ugandan officials say the disease affects more than 3,000 children in the country, many between the ages of 5 and 15, Reuters reports.

Here’s what you need to know about the deadly disease:

What it is

The disease was first documented in Tanzania in the early 1960s. It is characterized by seizurelike episodes of head nodding. The seizures often happen after eating food, which means children with the syndrome may tend to avoid meals and can easily become undernourished. Many other children see their vision or neurological system impaired.

What it looks like

Reuters reporter Jocelyn Edwards followed the story of one child with nodding syndrome. She reports:

Most mornings, Michael Odongkara takes his daughter Nancy Lamwaka outside and ties her ankle to a mango tree.
It’s not something he likes to do. But the disease that gives the 12-year-old violent seizures has so diminished her mental capacity that she no longer talks and often wanders off. Once, she was lost in the bush for three days . . .
As her father watched helplessly, Nancy cried out and began to convulse. Saliva flowed from her mouth, and her whole body shook for a few minutes until she finally went limp in the dust. Nancy has had episodes like this up to five times a day for the past eight years.


Nancy Lamwaka, 12, is tied with a rope as she sits in northern Uganda. (REUTERS)
Possible causes

Researchers don’t know what causes the disease, but they have some hypotheses, including a black-fly-borne parasite that causes river blindness, or a deficiency of vitamin B6.

How widespread

Over the past three years, the disease has killed more than 200 children in Uganda. But it also exists out of the country; thousands of children in South Sudan are also suffering.

Reason for hope

Uganda has opened its first clinics specifically designed to help children with nodding syndrome. More than 200 sick children visited clinics in several different districts on Monday, BBC reports.

To read more on how you can help Uganda, click here.

More related reading:

BlogPost: Invisible Children releases video response to criticisms

BlogPost:  Kony 2012 gets support of Obama

BlogPost:  Invisible Children responds to criticism

BlogPost:  Invisible Children founders posing with guns

BlogPost: Joseph Kony and Lord’s Resistance Army: A primer

By  |  11:41 AM ET, 03/13/2012

Tags:  World, Uganda, nodding disease, Joseph Kony

 
Read what others are saying
     

    © 2011 The Washington Post Company