18 July 2012

Uganda: Finding Nodding Disease Cure Will Take Years - Expert

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

An expert involved in researching the nodding disease syndrome that has ravaged parts of northern Uganda has said it will take years before a cure is found.

"Until we know the underlying cause, eradicating the disease seems like a long shot," said Dr Scott Dowell, a specialist paediatrician at the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, USA.

"We're realistic enough to know that in some cases, with these hard-to-figure-out diseases, it takes many years of investigation before you get to the bottom of things," he said.

Dowell was speaking recently on Facing Justice, a fortnightly radio programme produced by the Northern Uganda Media Club and the Institute for War and Peace Reporting. This news will particularly hit communities in Lamwo, Kitgum, Pader, Gulu and Amuru districts that have been most affected by the disease.

Experts from CDC and the ministry of Health have been involved in researching the nodding disease since 2009. Dowell says they have made some progress.

"In terms of laboratory testing, we have tested for at least three dozen different infectious agents and other causes, all of which are either entirely negative or equally distributed between the cases and the controls.

Nodding disease first came to light in 2009, although some accounts say it was first reported in 2007. The ministry of Health estimates that about 3,000 children have contracted the disease, while 200 have died. Outbreaks were first reported in Pader, Lamwo and Kitgum districts, but the disease has since spread to neighbouring Gulu and Amuru.

"I also think it's quite likely that this is going to be a long-term issue and that both affected families and the government of Uganda need to take a realistic approach and plan for the long term," Dowell said.

The ministry of Health has set up treatment centres in the affected districts, but patients still have difficulties in accessing medical facilities due to long distances between their homes and the centres. The ministry spokeswoman, Rukia Nakamatte, said they were aware distance to health centres remained a challenge.

"However, we have supported the local governments with means of transport to conduct outreach programmes in the various areas. We cannot set up treatment centres in every sub-county," Nakamatte said, adding that the outreach programme had so far benefitted about 60 per cent of the infected children.

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