Ugandan gov’t dismisses nodding disease death figures

Ugandan gov’t dismisses nodding disease death figures
Health Minister, Dr Ruth Aceng (L) and Dr Bernard Opar, the Focal Person for Nodding Syndrome (R) during a press briefing

Ugandan government has dismissed figures circulating that over 300 people have so far died of the nodding disease syndrome since 2007 when it was first reported in Uganda.

Health minister, Dr Ruth Aceng told a press conference in Kampala that according to official records only 137 deaths have been recorded in Amuru, Lamwo, Omoro, Pader and Kitgum districts.

The cause and origin of nodding is yet to be discovered. A 2017 report by a parliamentary committee on Gender, Labour and Social Development found that medication given to nodding disease patients ticks up their food and sexual appetite or libido.

This revelation, according to the report, complicates the treatment of the disease, which makes its victims constantly nod their heads.

The high libido due to drugs, according to the report, forces some victims to rape their peers. Some people speculate the disease is an after-effect of the war that ravaged the region for at least two decades.

Aceng said Amuru district registered 4 deaths which occurred between 2016 and 2017 while Lamwo district recorded 10 deaths between 2012 and 2018. Kitgum district registered 33 deaths, most of which occurred between 2012 and 2014.

Omoro district according to Aceng had 9 deaths between 2015 and 2017 while Pader had the highest number of deaths at 81 to date. Aceng says only one death has so far been registered this year. The person who died this year according to the minister was under treatment but he unfortunately drowned in a river.

She says the burden of the nodding syndrome by districts currently stands at; 806 cases in Pader, 544 in Kitgum 339 in Lamwo, 323 in Gulu and Omoro, 58 in Amuru, and 13 in Lira, making a total of 2,143 cases to date.

The nodding diseases syndrome continues to arise emotions in northern Uganda with some leaders saying the government has not done enough to provide support and care to those suffering from it.

Ugandan gov’t dismisses nodding disease death figures
A nodding disease victim

Deputy speaker of parliament, Jacob Oulanyah also Omoro County MP is the latest politician from northern Uganda to complain against failure by government to support those suffering from the disease. Oulanyah in a televised interview accused the government of neglecting children suffering from nodding disease syndrome in northern Uganda.

Oulanyah was critical of the manner government has handled the situation of the children saying the plight of those suffering from the syndrome was getting worse especially following the closure of the special centre last year.

“It is mortifying for government to ignore these children. A government that does not care for its children is a government with no future,” Oulanyah said in television clip that has been shared on social media.

“If you travel to northern Uganda and look at these children, you cannot believe that they live in Uganda. And this problem is not new. Why has government abandoned these children as if they are not Ugandans?” Oulanyah asked.

Minister Aceng, in what appeared like a response to Oulanyah’s outburst said the government has continued to provide funding to districts affected by nodding syndrome. She revealed that Shs 1.8 billion has been disbursed to date towards nodding disease in the north.

Nodding syndrome is according to World Health Organisation (WHO) is neurological condition with unknown cause or origin. It was first documented in Tanzania in the 1960s, then later in South Sudan in the 1990s and in northern Uganda in 2007.