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Monday, February 6, 2012

Uganda : Nodding disease - Unlocking it will take years of research

An article from The Observer, excerpt :

" Dr. Monday Busuulwa is a medical epidemiologist with the African Field Epidemiology Network (AFENET).

He is part of the multi-disciplinary team that is investigating the Nodding Disease outbreak that has claimed hundreds of lives in northern Uganda since 2009. Kakaire Ayub Kirunda spoke to him about the ongoing investigations and the science of investigating diseases. Below are excerpts:

Why has it taken long to know what causes Nodding Disease and how it spreads?

Nodding Disease is a relatively new medical condition whose occurrence is sporadic. The disease has previously been reported in some African countries such as South Sudan, Tanzania and Liberia, according to available literature. It is an emerging disease and this means that its cause has not yet been fully established by the medical world, but is currently under investigation. Nodding disease presents with brief rhythmic chin to chest movements of the head (nodding) which are triggered by the sight of food.

Then it is followed by loss of consciousness and convulsions. Over time, people with this disease suffer mental and physical retardation, as well as malnutrition. Important to note is that nodding disease is not contagious. But all I can say is that everything is being done to understand what within the body causes this condition.

Talking of fits, is this a new form of epilepsy as has been reported?

Nodding Disease is a rare form of epilepsy characterised by abnormal electric activity within the brain. In the case of Nodding Disease, affected children start by nodding and then present with fits that are similar to other forms of epilepsy.

Why then are the children being treated with epilepsy drugs when this is said to be an emerging disease?

Like I said, this is epilepsy. Therefore, the common medicines for treating epilepsy can also be used to control fits in these children with Nodding Disease to ensure that they can live a relatively normal life like other children. In addition to this, the management of these children requires a holistic approach that addresses the psychological, social, and nutritional needs of the sick child and the caretakers. It is also important to create a stimulating environment to improve brain development and functionality.

Could the weaponry used during the northern Uganda insurgency be partly responsible for this condition?

We do not have any scientific evidence to justify this allegation. However, what we know is that similar cases have been previously reported in places with no history of war."

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