I am now following Rodney Muhumuza of The Associated Press on Twitter, because his recent story on Ebola was excellent and he's followed it up with this, published today in The Globe and Mail: Uganda tries to find cause of mysterious nodding head disease. Excerpt:
Augustine Languna’s eyes welled up and then his voice failed as he recalled the drowning death of his 16-year-old daughter. The women near him looked away, respectfully avoiding the kind of raw emotion that the head of the family rarely displayed.
“What is traumatizing us,” he said after regaining his composure, “is that the well where she died is where we still go for drinking water.”
Joyce Labol was found dead about three years ago. As she bent low to fetch water from a pond a half mile from Languna’s compound of thatched huts, an uncontrollable spasm overcame her. The teen was one of more than 300 young Ugandans who have died as a result of the mysterious illness that is afflicting more and more children across northern Uganda and in pockets of South Sudan.
The disease is called nodding syndrome, or nodding head disease, because those who have it nod their heads and sometimes go into epileptic-like fits. The disease stunts children’s growth and destroys their cognition, rendering them unable to perform small tasks. Some victims don’t recognize their own parents.
Ugandan officials say some 3,000 children in the East African country suffer from the affliction. Some caregivers even tie nodding syndrome children up to trees so that they don’t have to monitor them every minute of the day.
Beginning Monday, Uganda hosts a four-day international conference on nodding syndrome that health officials believe will lead to a clearer understanding of the mysterious disease.
World Health Organization officials in Uganda said the conference will be attended by about 120 scientists from all over the world. Anthony Mbonye, of Uganda’s Ministry of Health, said the conference will allow scientists to share knowledge about the disease.