Nodding Disease is a progressive fatal neurological disease characterized by nodding of the head, mental retardation, seizures, and stunted growth. Investigations have revealed that the disease is a new type of epilepsy. It is reported to be affecting at least 3,000 children in the districts of Kitgum (479), Lamwo (328) , Pader (1,416) , and other areas of Northern Uganda. As of February 14, there was a estimated 3,094 suspected cases with 170 deaths.
The disease is mainly affecting children between the ages of 5 - 15 years, with 54% of the affected children being males. Most of the affected children (93%) live in areas where Onchocerciasis (River Blindness) is prevalent. The disease presentation suggests that this is possibly a new type of epilepsy that is characterized by head nodding episodes that consist of repetitive dropping forward of the head. This nodding is said to be brought on by food and cold, but studies of this phenomenon are inconclusive. There is deterioration of brain function in some of the victims, and malnutrition with growth retardation and limb wasting. Many children have dropped out of school. One example is the Auru Falls Primary school of 151 pupils has lost 46 students to Nodding disease, and of the remaining 151 students another 15 are showing signs.
This disease is wiping out whole families. Parents are unable to work due to the need to stay home with disabled children. It is common that the children are tied to nearby trees and huts to prevent wandering. Physiologically, EEG's are abnormal and some children show almost continuous seizure activity. MRIs show the brains are atropying and hippocampal changes are prevalent as well.
Children often die of secondary symptoms; being fatally burned from fires, drowning in local rivers, or from exposure when they wander off to areas where their families can't find them in time.
This is absolutely tragic, and the Ugandan Ministry of Health, The US - CDC and the World Health Organization have all been left baffled to the case of the disease. More in-depth research needs to be conducted to help save the lives of these children.
Please help raise awareness of this blight upon the children of Northern Uganda. This is not an unfortunate event that occurred almost a decade ago, this is a tragedy happening right now.