It's like a second war, say affected families in northern Uganda. While adults recover from the terrors of a 20 year-long civil war, more and more children are suffering from a mysterious illness. Experts are mystified by nodding disease.
Initially it was considered to be a form of epilepsy. It generally begins with a lack of concentration. Then sufferers are affected by seizures, including repeated nodding, hence the name. If the illness gets worse, children remain physically and mentally impaired and eventually become so weak they are unable to eat. Nodding disease is found exclusively among the children of refugee families. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), some 3,000 children have been affected in Uganda, of whom several hundred have died. Queuing for food aid at a refugee camp in northern Uganda Scientists around the world have been seeking the origins of the disease for many years.
"We have ruled out more than three dozen possible causes," said Scott Dowell, Director of Division of Global Disease Detection and Emergency Response at the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta. He and his colleagues have not yet succeeded in finding a succesful form of treatment. Fresh information has now come from a new study carried out by the University of Gulu in northern Uganda. It sees a link between the illness and the consequences of the civil war in the region.
Poor conditions in refugee camps are posing urgent threats as most of the affected children grew up in there. During the 20 years of war between rebels of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) and the Ugandan government, they became refugees in their own country. The government set up refugee camps where hygiene was poor, there was not enough to eat and inmates were permanently in fear of armed attack.A few years ago the remaining camps were dissolved and the children, now aged between five and 15, returned to their villages. The first cases of illness soon followed. Families were hardy able to provide the help their children needed when affected by seizures.