This post is in response to a short documentary from CNN’s Inside Africa, and aims to explore Nodding’s disease and current efforts of intervention:
Nodding disease is an ailment that has impacted over 3,000 children in northern Uganda, primarily children between the ages of five and fifteen years old (McKenzie). Scientists believe the disease stems from a form of river blindness (Onchocerciasis) transmitted by the black fly, but, interestingly, patients also display vitamin B6 deficiency (McKenzie). The unknown source incites nodding behaviors and subsequent epileptic-like seizures, personality changes, and wandering (McKenzie). The seizures also seem to be linked to the weather changes or the sight of food. Children who suffer from this illness are often ostracized from community life. International public health efforts are slowly being organized to mitigate the symptoms and social outcomes of this serious disease.
According to statistics provided by the World Health Organization (WHO), the percentage of people who have access to improved water and sanitation increased from 38% in 1990 to 63% in 2010 in rural areas, but it seems that the youth of Northern Uganda is particularly suffering from inadequate access to clean water. Cases of Nodding disease are also present in other sub-Saharan countries with similar environmental conditions, including Tanzania, southern Sudan, and Liberia (Ondoa). The slow spread of this disease is starting to cause some major concerns among ministries of health and international health leaders like the Center for Disease Control and the WHO.
In March 2012, within the first three days of a registration drive held in Northern Uganda, 400 children were registered as possible Nodding disease victims (McKenzie).The growing incidence of Nodding disease has serious implications for the future of Uganda. These children are no longer able to receive an education, contribute to the community in a meaningful way, and, in a long-term perspective, reproduce and start families of their own. Nodding disease is both physically and mentally debilitating, as well as fatal. In the majority of cases, stunted brain growth results in mental retardation. Thus far, 170 children have died in this region because of this disease.
CNN’s short documentary on this devastating illness mentions that anti-epilepsy medications and diet changes within a hospital setting have proven to be somewhat helpful in ameliorating the children’s condition (McKenzie). I would think that establishing a widespread program, similar to the one we read about Nepal in “Millions Saved” against Vitamin A deficiency, would be helpful in targeting dietary shortcomings of Nodding patients, although this deficieny does not seem to be the primary cause. In fact, the World Health Organization is organizing efforts to help these children including a bi-annual treatment of river blindness with the drug Ivermectin, increased surveillance, and multivitamin support (Ondoa). An Ugandan politician selected 25 children to transfer to a national hospital to receive treatment, but the WHO’s plan is definitely a more accessible approach that could help an even larger number of children (McKenzie). Another form of intervention would include finding a way to purify the river water or find another water source for these Ugandans. Socially, communities must work to provide support to the families suffering from their children’s illness and make an effort integrate them into the normal ongoings of the community (Ajello). Though this disease’s roots are unknown, many valuable approaches can be taken to combat the devastating effects of Nodding disease.
Interestingly, many leaders and activists have used the overwhelming attention that the Kony 2012 campaign is receiving to increase awareness of Nodding disease, which was probably formerly unknown to many people (Alpert). Briefly, the Kony 2012 campaign was organized to stop Joseph Kony, the leader of a child militia named the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and promotor of child sex slavery in sub-Saharan Africa originally from Uganda. Many people have used this attention to stress how Nodding disease also affects children. I strongly encourage my peers to read about this unusual disease, and brainstorm ways that these large international health organization can increase awareness and form potential action plans or forms of support including food, money, and medical supplies.
Ajello, Pauline. “Health action in crises.” World Health Organization joins other partners to support Nodding Disease investigations in Southern Sudan. World Health Organization, 2012. Web. 20 Mar 2012.
Alpert, Emily. “World Now.” Ugandans pull Kony spotlight to mysterious nodding disease. Los Angeles Times, 14 03 2012. Web. 20 Mar 2012. <http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/world_now/2012/03/uganda-kony-nodding-disease.html>.
McKenzie, David. “Mysterious nodding disease debilitates children.” Inside Africa. CNN, 19 03 2012. Web. 20 Mar 2012. <http://www.cnn.com/2012/03/19/world/africa/uganda-nodding-disease/index.html?hpt=hp_c1>.
Ondoa, Christine. “Opinion.” Nodding disease: Govt’s approach. New Vision, 06 03 2012. Web. 20 Mar 2012. <http://www.newvision.co.ug/news/629434-nodding-disease-govt-s-approach.html>.