The University of Gulu lies in the center of the affected region. An inter-disciplinary group of researchers asked the local population what they thought were the causes of the disease. One explanation was that people who died in the war and were not buried in the traditional way brought misfortune to the community.
More interesting for the scientists was the suggestion that food aid distributed by the World Food Program (WFP) was the culprit. Medical staff in the region point to chronic undernourishment of the refugees, toxic seeds that were eaten out of desperation, and poisoning by chemical and biological weapons. In addition, they believe that river water was contaminated by the extraction of minerals.
For the researchers, these were promising new avenues to explore. They carried out tests which revealed, for example, that the children have very high levels of acids in their blood. Research team leader David Lagoro Kitara told DW: "This might be a result of either chronic malnutrition or they might have a metabolic problem."
Medication recommended by the WHO and the Ugandan Health Ministry has not helped, Kitara said. But the Gulu researchers have come up with an alternative. Generous helpings of milk and food supplements produced a swift improvement in the children's condition which then stabilized. Based on this initial success, the researchers are hopeful that they can now find an effective cure.