30 March 2012

Tanzania: Kagera On Full Alert As Mysterious Disease Spreads in Uganda

Photo: James Eriku/Daily Monitor
Constant flow of saliva is one of the symptoms of nodding disease.

Bukoba — KAGERA Regional authorities are on a full alert following outbreak of a mysterious disease in neighbouring Uganda known as "nodding syndrome."

The cause of the disease is unknown, but it affects only children - who suffer from seizures, stunted physical and mental growth and nodding of the head.

Nodding syndrome causes children to spasm uncontrollably - and eventually to waste away and die. Uganda's health ministry has recorded 3,000 cases and almost 200 deaths since 2010. Kagera Regional Medical Officer (RMO) Dr Alex Mwita, said surveillance on all entry points had been tightened.

"We are keeping a 24-hour surveillance. The Ministry of Health and Social Welfare will be sending a team of experts to Kampala, to gather more information about the strange disease," he said. Uganda has opened its first clinics specifically set up to help thousands of children who have a mysterious fatal condition known as nodding syndrome.

The centres in the north - where the disease is most common - are to control the worst of the symptoms. There have also been cases of the disease in South Sudan. More than 200 sick children turned up on Monday for treatment in the centres in the districts of Kitgum, Pader and Lamwo, Uganda's Commissioner for Health Services Dr Anthony Mbonye told the BBC.

Health workers cannot offer definitive treatment - until doctors find out what lies at the root of the disease - but, Dr Mbonye says, they have been trained to help improve the lives of children by managing the neurological symptoms. Anti-epileptic drugs have been effective in treating nodding disease patients, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The BBC's Ignatius Bahizi in Kampala says a local MP, Beatrice Anywar, has spearheaded a campaign to press the government to deal more effectively with the disease, which, he says, has caused huge anxieties in rural communities. Half a billion children could grow up physically and mentally stunted over the next 15 years because they do not have enough to eat, the charity Save the Children says in a new report.

It says much more needs to be done to tackle malnutrition in the world's poorest countries. The charity found that many families could not afford meat, milk or vegetables. Eighty per cent of stunted children live in just four countries, the charity says. The survey covered families in India, Bangladesh, Peru, Pakistan and Nigeria. Malnutrition contributes to the deaths of 2.6 million children each year, according to the report.

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