Residents of Atiak sub-county have been gripped by fear following the discovery of 50 cases of the nodding syndrome by health officials in Okidi village, Amuru district on Friday.
The residents say that they have been living in desolation over the mysterious disease, and many had turned to traditional healers because they believed them to be restless spirits of those who were brutally killed during the two decades of war between the government of President Yoweri Museveni and Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).
One woman says that she had already wasted shs800,000, four goats and a pigeon towards a traditional healer to cast out the omen from her son, without any success.
Ms Laker Susan, a mother of one child affected by the nodding disease said that she first recognized the changing behaviour of her son in 2005 when she started screaming like a bird, and she knew then that something was wrong.
“We went to the health centre three times but there was no change and when his condition became worse, we decided to go to a witchdoctor who also only deceived us,” she said.
“He demanded a pigeon, four goats and the man cut my child’s body with razor blades and smeared wild fruit on him,” she said.
“We offered him shs800,000 and he asked me at night to get to his bed
room so that the spirit massages the body of the child but I refused
because it was strange,” she added.
She said that the witchdoctor then refused to continue seeing her child because he said that the spirits were annoyed with her.
Margaret Aciro who is mother of three children suffering from the nodding disease said that one day when she returned from the field, she first identified one of them behaving like a mad person.
“It touched me so much, because when she attempted to eat, the food just fell off her hands, they don’t have a future,” she said.
The area Member of Parliament Hon Gilbert Olanya said that he deeply shocked that the disease has been quietly causing destruction in his constituency.
“We raised this issue in Parliament and government told us they gave
1.5bn and that out of that 103 million was given to affected areas but we found the money never reached the targeted areas” Olanya said.
”Government doesn’t care about our children and we are demanding that it comes up with the cause of nodding disease to allay our doubts,” Olanya said.
He demanded that the government declares itself unfit to manage the
situation and allow the International Community to intervene.
“They claim that by decaling northern Uganda a disaster area, it will have a financial implication but they are really hiding the effects of the bombs they threw on our people,” Olanya said.
Olanya said the cause of the syndrome was not as a result of restless
spirits and warned traditional healers and witchdoctors against extorting money from the desperate affected parents of nodding children.
Kitgum Woman Member of Parliament Beatrice Anywar and Olanya recently
moved a motion in Parliament seeking a declaration of the nodding disease affected areas, a humanitarian disaster zone.
The motion has silenced on the floor by the Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi who said that he will engage in dialogue with those those moving the motion. The move was seconded by the Deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanyah, with some MPs walking out to escape voting on the matter, including Minister Okello Oryem, Pader woman MP CD Lowila and the MP for Agago Okot John Amos.
The in Charge of Atiak Health Center IV Dr Dominica Matusia urged the communities to remain calm as health officials try to get medication and food to the victims.
“We have diagnosed the disease and many others have them, we are working with government to see what to do,” she said.
According to Mr Geoffrey Kibwola the coordinator of the nodding disease in the sub-county, out of the 50 cases, only 24 met the definition of nodding syndrome.
The villages mostly affected are Okidi, Pacilo and Parwacha where 33 cases were recorded, he said.
Kibwola said that the issue of transport and bad roads remains challenges that are hampering their movement into remote places where they know there are cases of the syndrome.
Only five motorcycles are in operation while two have broken down.
Nodding disease is characterized by head seizure normally experienced during cold weather and meals. It results in stunted growth and mental retardation leading to death of most children below the age of 18.
Over 10, 000 cases have been recorded with 600 deaths in the districts of Kitgum, Lamwo, Gulu and Pader since 2005.
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