Nodding disease hinders education in Acholi region

Many pupils in Acholi sub-region have dropped out of school due to the nodding disease syndrome which is tormenting children in the region.

According to leaders of districts in Acholi sub-region, many children suffering from the nodding disease syndrome are unable to go to school while some parents have stopped their children from going to school, fearing that they could contract the illness.

The Pader District Education Officer, Mr Charles Okidi Obole, says the most affected schools are those in Atanga, Lagut, Awer and Angagula sub-counties.

Mr Alfred Akena, the Pader LC5 chairperson, who is also the chairperson of the district’s nodding disease task force, says most of the children suffering from the disease are of school-going age.

“The future of our children is uncertain. Parents have decided to keep their children in their homes for fear that their children might contract the diseases,” Mr Akena says.

He adds that 1,700 children in the district have been affected by the nodding syndrome.

According to Pader education officials, Aruu Primary School which had 200 pupils in the first term, currently has only 95.

The Kitgum District Education Officer, Mr Celest Lamakio Odonga, says there should be mass sensitisation among the teachers about the disease so that when children experience nodding seizure while at school, the teachers can administer first aid to them.

“Due to lack of skills in giving first aid to such children, parents opt to keep their children at home with close supervision. Some teachers also distance themselves when children are attacked thinking that the disease is contagious,” Mr Odonga says.

He adds that by the end of last term, more than 200 pupils in Layam, Akwanga and Amida sub-counties were affected by the nodding disease syndrome.

The National Coordinator for the Nodding Disease Syndrome, Dr Bernard Opar, says the Ministry of Health will soon start sensitising teachers on how to assist children when they experience nodding seizure.

Due to the mental retardation caused by the syndrome, Dr Opar says the Ministry of Education will formulate a special needs programme to address the issue of such children.

By Cissy Makumbi   (email the author)

Posted  Friday, May 18  2012 at  00:00


Parliament again defers voting on nodding disease

Voting on the motion to declare areas affected by the nodding disease syndrome in Acholi sub-region a humanitarian emergency area was yesterday deferred for the second time after government called for dialogue with the affected stakeholders.

The same motion was last week deferred when Parliament failed to realise quorum after scores of NRM MPs walked out of Parliament before voting.

Having debated for about two hours and failing to reach a compromise on the matter, Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi moved that an impromptu meeting be called between the movers of the motion and him to come to a consensus, a position Parliament adopted yesterday.

Legislators Alice Alaso, (Serere Woman), Chris Baryomunsi, (Kinkizi East), Beatrice Anywar (Kitgum Woman) and Gerald Karuhanga (Youth, Western) would meet with the prime minister after which a final position would be communicated to the House this Thursday (tomorrow).

Mr Mbabazi had earlier resisted calls by some MPs, especially from the opposition who wanted Parliament to vote on the matter by show of hands.

He argued that it was unconstitutional for Parliament to pass a motion that has financial implications without the Executive’s input. But realising that government might lose to the opposition, he called for dialogue.

Differing suggestions
Bugweri County MP Abdu Katuntu said the matter did not have any financial implications but only required government to look for more money other than the Shs15 billion they said was already earmarked for the affected districts.

But Mr Mbabazi said: “I suggest that we stand over the matter and get together with the movers of the motion, discuss it and agree on a final position to be communicated to you.”

The deputy speaker, Mr Jacob Oulanyah, who presided over yesterday’s session and also hails from the affected sub- region, gave the parties until Thursday to meet.

“The debate shows that Parliament is serious about the debate on nodding disease so that we resolve it without acrimony,” Mr Oulanyah said.

Ms Alaso last week moved the motion to declare some areas disaster areas and at least 125 MPs are needed to realise the quorum.

The prayers of the motion were that government declares the area disaster-striken, release and make public the Centers for Disease Control report, and that the Social Services Committee of Parliament takes charge and makes quarterly reports to the House among others.

Some NRM MPs, following an earlier NRM caucus meeting, switched positions when they demanded to understand the implications of declaring the affected areas humanitarian emergency areas.

By Mercy Nalugo   (email the author)

Posted  Wednesday, May 16  2012 at  00:00

Now adults show signs of nodding syndrome

Health officials in Lamwo District are at crossroads after nodding disease signs and symptoms began manifesting in adults.

Previously, only children had exhibited the symptoms.

The district is one of the most affected by the disease. At Palabek Gem Treatment Centre for nodding disease, at least 20 adults aged between 18 to 35 years have been diagnosed with the symptoms.

The signs of nodding disease include stunted growth leading to mental retardation, nodding seizures when victims begin to eat or feel cold. Severe seizures cause the victims to collapse, leading to injuries.

Ms Dorothy Akwero, the clinical officer at Palabek-Gem, on Friday said: “Their (adults) behaviours are exactly for children and all the signs and symptoms exhibited have no difference to those of children. We are now worried that the disease could be changing its mode.”

Ms Akwero made the remarks while receiving 100 mattresses for the disease’s victims donated by Tian-Tang Group, a Chinese company.

The district’s focal person for the disease, Michael Odope, said although the symptoms and signs among adults are similar to affected children, more investigations need to still be carried out to verify the cases.

Lamwo district chairperson, Mr Mathew Akia, said the new development could worsen the situation. “Who will direct the children to the treatment centres, if their parents and guardians have also become victims?” Mr Akia asked.

Although several efforts have been put in place to find the mode of transmission and treatment for the disease by the Health Ministry and other partners, no tangible have been observed.

By Cissy Makumbi  (email the author)

Posted  Tuesday, May 15  2012 at  00:00

Acholi MPs want Parliament to vote on nodding disease today

Opposition MPs from Acholi want the motion declaring their sub-region a humanitarian disaster area finalised today and voted on by show of hands.

However, according to today’s order paper, prepared yesterday, the motion continues and voting could take place if the House realises the quorum. The motion was not concluded last week because of lack of quorum after scores of NRM MPs walked out of Parliament before voting.

At least 125 MPs are needed to realise the quorum. MPs Beatrice Anywar (Kitgum Woman, FDC) and Gilbert Oulanyah (Kilak, Indep.) yesterday accused Acholi MPs from NRM and some members of Cabinet from the same region of sabotaging the move.

The duo named Minister of Foreign Affairs Okello Oryem, MPs Amos Okot (Agago, NRM) and Lowila Oketayot (Pader, NRM) as those who vacated the House. “We saw our colleagues on the NRM side weren’t comfortable to accept that we declare our area a disaster and that is very unfortunate. Probably they didn’t want to been as supporting it,” Ms Anywar said. She added that voting should be done by show of hands so that everyone sees which Acholi does not support their electorate.

Mr Oryem was not available for comment but Ms Otekayot said the new team of MPs from Acholi has been more vibrant in caring for their people than Ms Anywar whom she said is playing to the gallery. “I care more for the nodding disease patients than her because the problem was there years ago when she was in Parliament. She is playing on our sweat because when we came to Parliament we raised the issues with government, where was she all along?” Ms Otekayot said.

Mr Okot told this newspaper that he had rushed to attend a budget workshop when he left the House. “I shouldn’t be judged like that because I can’t be influenced. It’s the work of the new MPs that Ms Anywar has hijacked and now is blaming us- which isn’t fair,” Mr Okot said.

The prayers of the motion were that government declares the area a disaster, release and make public the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) report, and that the social services committee of Parliament takes charge and reports to the House quarterly among others.

According to Mr Oulanyah, until yesterday morning when he left his village, the number of affected children was 7,200 compared to 5,000 declared by World Health Organisation declared almost a week ago.

The syndrome has been pronounced in Pader, Kitgum, Lamwo, Amuru and Agago districts.
Health ministry officials have initially said CDC, based in Atlanta, released partial results from their three-year study of the disease, associating the syndrome with river blindness which is transmitted by bites of the black river fly.

By Sheila Naturinda  (email the author)

Posted  Tuesday, May 15  2012 at  00:00

Uganda women protest topless against Police public groping of female politician

On Friday, Ugandans witnessed another episode of police brutality. It wasn’t just the brutality we are used to seeing.  In this video ran by NTVUganda  a police officer was, publicly before the cameras, groping an opposition politician Ingrid Turinawe.

Ingrid has been at the forefront of various pressure groups in Uganda for the last 5 years. She was one of the leaders of the Activists for Change (A4C), a pressure group that led the famous Walk to Work protests that took place in many parts of Uganda for the greater part of 2011 as the Arab spring was going on.

The group has been banned because in our country where we still use very colonial laws to the advantage of a dictatorial regime, the attorney general has powers to declare a group illegal even without evidence of  the need to ban them. This law threatens even a blogger or writers who mention A4C as government could claim that they are  promoting an illegal group  with intention to ‘incite violence’. Already two journalists have been summoned by the police over an interview had with the head of the group. Human rights groups have warned on the dangers of the government-increased crackdown on freedom of speech, expression and assembly in Uganda.

Once the group A4C was banned, some of its leaders rebranded it into For God and my Country (4GC), taking after the country motto. It was after the launch of the new group that Uganda police brutality came back to our living rooms.

This time a male police offer publically groping Ingrid as another pulls her leg out of the car. The police officer didn’t grope her once, he did it repeatedly and in the video we hear Ingrid asking why the police officer was doing that. One other police officer warns his colleague but does nothing to stop this.Storyful covered the initial reactions of Ugandans on twitter. On Saturday evening, in a move to do damage control Uganda police sent a tweet;

They didn’t even have the humility to describe the incident they were talking about. They wouldn’t even come close to mentioning this public sexual assault. Then later on the TVs came a junior police spokesperson to claim that the officer who groped Ingrid was a woman; as if a woman groping a woman is a lesser evil!

The  women’s movement in Uganda together with human rights activists wouldn’t let this pass. To be honest they have been quiet in the past regarding rights of women in the political sphere. Today over 15 women activist wearing only their bras staged a protest outside the Central Police station to call for the attention of the Inspector General of Police who has so far been quiet on the matter.

As expected they were arrested but their message was loud and clear! “We respect our bodies and we expect to be respected.”

In a country where investigations into sexual violence usually don’t easily go through, when you have a person in uniform sexually assaulting a woman the public outcry can only be louder across political divides . Respect is earned and if the police are to get respect of Ugandans they better bring such officers to face the justice system! Resorting to internal disciplinary methods when it comes such sexual crimes will only condone such acts and Ugandan public will not be satisfied with that.

As one human rights activist Nicholas Opiyo  posted on his facebook said:

 The loud silence of senior police authority (forget the casual speaking ad insensitive spokespersons) in the face of the brutal affront at the dignity of women lends credence to the suspicion of their tacit approval or condonation of such acts. The same happened to Anne Mugisha at Jinja Road Police Station on April 11, 2011, Nabilah Naggayi Ssempala and many other women. Enough to this brutality. Kale Kayeihura is a shame to this country

Many Ugandans through Facebook and Twitter wondered , if the police can do that to a prominent politician publicly, who knows what takes place when women are taken into custody? Ingrid is a woman first and a politician later; when law enforcers choose to use sexually humiliating tactics to curtail women’s freedom to demonstrate and question their government, all of us are not safe. When a country has armed forces with a history of sexual violence, this act of public groping of a woman politician can only worry us and hope we are not going backwards in the fight against sexual and gender based violence.

In the past we have seen shootings of civilians in protests and no officer is brought to book. In cases when the police are investigating themselves we can only wait to see what they come up with.

In 2008, the Uganda police arrested Kampala Woman Parliamentarian Nabilah Sempala in a manner that was meant to humiliate her and no one was held accountable. The country watched images of police officers lifting up skirts of a woman Member of Parliament. There was a little noise and we didn’t see much accountability.

In 2010 I had interview with Ingrid Turinawe who was at time leading a group of women calling for peaceful elections and accountable electoral commission. Ingrid and some women who were part of the group had reported the indecent way the police arrested them and again no much followup was seen.

If women have to worry about being undressed, groped and many worse things in their attempt to participate in politics then Uganda cannot claim to protect the rights of women.

I witnessed sexual terrorism, says Turinawe

“I witnessed sexual terrorism on Friday afternoon,” says FDC Womens League leader Ingrid Turinawe. I was driving to Nansana, Wakiso District for a rally, with a one Paddy and another youth.

We branched off to a supermarket as we approached Nansana Town Council.

We parked to buy some water with other officials, including Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago, Mubarak Munyagwa (Kawempe mayor), MP Ssemujju Nganda and others.

We wanted to proceed but the police stopped us. They said we could proceed because Mr Lukwago had spoken to commander Andrew Kaweesi.

To my surprise, as I followed the mayors, police again blocked me and demanded that I come out of the car. They began pulling me out of the car while pressing my breasts.

I demanded for the reference directing my arrest but in vain. The policemen were rude and only targeted to torture me.

They overpowered me and dragged me into their tinted van. What was shown or captured on camera was minimal because there were men in that van, they pulled my hands from the back and pressed my breasts and pierced me in the feet while taking me to Kawempe Police Station. I even lost a nail.

At Kawempe, they brought me papers to make a statement which I refused because I was tired of making statements.

They released me on bond after writing one statement in the presence of Mr Lukwago.

They charged me with committing unspecified traffic offences.

I got friends to drive me back to Nansana to pick my car. Again, they held me at Nansana Police and declined to release my car, saying it did not have glasses.

Police at Nansana released me late in the night with the help of Kawempe and Nansana leaders.

I am now suffering because I have no means of transport to the hospital.

I have chest pain and my breast is swollen oozing blood. I was tortured at the hands of those goons in that van but there is no turning back.

By Ephraim Kasozi  (email the author)

Posted  Monday, April 23  2012 at  00:00

Police under fire over Ingrid arrest

Uganda’s police was last evening asked to apologise as it came under a barrage of criticism from women and human rights defenders scandalised by the latest assault of a female opposition activist by its officers.
Forum for Democratic Change Women’s League leader Ingrid Turinawe had her right breast repeatedly grabbed and fondled by what looked a policeman on Friday.

She was assaulted on her way to a protest rally in Nansana, outside Kampala.

Yesterday, the Kampala Metropolitan Police Spokesperson, Mr Ibin Ssenkumbi, insisted that policewomen carried out the arrest.

“But all the same, there have been concerns over the arresting exercise. The police are investigating the mistakes committed during the incident and whoever will be found in error will be disciplined,” he said in a telephone interview.

Women and rights activists described the treatment of Ms Turinawe as brutal, cruel and condemned the Force for violence against women.

Ms Betty Amongi, the chairperson of the Uganda Women Parliamentary Association, said the police officers targeted Ms Turinawe to humiliate her.

“It is an attack on her womanhood and the arrest was against the policy of employing women in the Force. We demand an apology and action against the errant officers,” Ms Amongi said, adding that this was an attack against women.

Dokolo Woman MP Cecilia Ogwal and Ms Alice Alaso, the Serere Woman MP, described the act as painful, inhuman and evil.

“What Ingrid was given cannot be given to a prisoner of war. We have been hearing of women suspects being raped in custody by police officers and we were discounting them. But the man who handled Ingrid would have raped her if he had an opportunity,” Ms Alaso said.

Information Minister Mary Karooro Okurut, who last week protested to a local tabloid over what she felt was its undermining of women in a story about the alleged attractiveness of particular women MPs, was brief in her reaction.
“I am not aware of the incident but if it is true, it is a police case,” she said.

Opposition politician Anne Mugisha, in an email, stated that the incident was further confirmation of police brutality against protestors.

She said since April 2011, women at the forefront of the walk-to-work protests have come face-to-face with bare-knuckled brutality.

Ms Mugisha’s statement recalled how a two-year-old baby girl Juliana Nalwanga was shot dead by security men and how a pregnant woman almost died after being shot in the belly.

“Over time, women have remained active in the protests and police brutality against them has continued. However, the silence of the women’s movement over the treatment of these women activists has been deafening,” she said.
Ms Mugisha promising action against the police for allowing “this nauseating behaviour”, also decrying “sexual violence and any other kind against peaceful protestors.”

Mr Livingstone Sewanyana, the executive director at the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, regretted the dehumanising actions of police officers .

By Ephraim Kasozi  (email the author)

Posted  Monday, April 23  2012 at  00:00

Pader women decry slow pace of tackling nodding disease

A group of women in Bolo- Kwera village, Awere Sub County in Northern Uganda, have urged the government to assist them in eradicating the nodding disease which is affecting children in Awere Sub county, Northern Uganda.

The women, who gathered at the resident of Opio Pierro, decried the slow pace at which nodding disease was being addressed in the area.

Pila Adong, a resident in the area, said: “There are over 1,000 children with nodding disease in the area of Awere Sub county. Most of these also come from poor families and live in poor hygiene”

Mzee Luke Orach, another resident said: “There is only one medical assistant who serves the population in Bolo Village at the health centre II located in the area. All other women and people with complaints of ailment have to travel to Awere Health centre III.”

There is also a severe challenge in getting water. There is only one borehole in Bolo, located at Bolo- Primary school, which serves the whole village. The other borehole located in Awere is not accessible.

The vast majority of homesteads in Bolo Kwera do not have toilet facilities for proper faecal disposal such as latrines. When a village member was asked where one could get a toilet facility, he was told to move ahead in the bushes of the area.

Such a failure to provide faecal disposal units could be a cause of diseases such as diarrhoea and worms.

April 16, 2012 Submitted by kityojames

Last group of nodding disease children discharged

The last group of children suffering from nodding disease has been discharged from Mulago national referral hospital.

“They are expected to report to the treatment centres for follow up documents before returning to their homes,” the hospital’s spokesperson Dan Kimosho said.

The hospital will continue to work closely with the ministry of health to monitor the affected children but from the established centres.

One of the children who had a problem of brain trauma underwent a successful operation, Kimosho confirmed.

Before this last group, Mulago had discharged about 20 children who were suffering from the same disease.

The screening and treatment centres are in Kitgum, Pader and the other affected districts.

Nodding disease is believed to be a new type of disorder characterized by head-nodding episodes that consist of the repetitive dropping forward of the head.

So far over 3000 children, mainly boys between the ages of five and 15 have been affected with 170 reported dead. The germ which causes river blindness also causes epilepsy in children.

According to research by the World health Organization (WHO) the affected region lies within an area where river blindness is prevalent.

By Violet Nabatanzi

Nodding disease spreads to Gulu

Whereas government last week officially opened nodding disease syndrome reception centres in Pader, Kitgum and Lamwo districts, the disease, whose cause and treatment is yet to be established, has reportedly spread to Gulu District.


The Ministry of Health and the World Health Organisation (WHO), have confirmed the development with the latter warning government to be cautious in its response to diseases.

Speaking at the opening of the nodding disease screening and treatment centre in Kitgum District on Friday, the WHO resident representative in Uganda, Dr Joaquim Saweka, warned that government should also address treatment and management of HIV/Aids and malaria.

He said the nodding disease syndrome is not unique to Uganda and is no longer a public health issue in Tanzania and South Sudan where it was reported earlier.

Dr Saweka said WHO is currently investigating the link between nodding disease and onchocerciasis, a parasitic condition that can cause river blindness, which has so far been linked to the disease.

“We have now arrived at an observation that places which suffer from nodding disease have high concentrations of onchocerciasis but we cannot decisively conclude that this is the parasite causing the nodding syndrome,” adding that WHO had been treating the disease as a post-traumatic stress disorder.

“If we are advocating resources, let’s not use nodding disease as an entry point because if all health centres are functional, the facilities can handle all health problems,” the WHO representative said.

Gulu Woman MP Betty Aol Ochan said last week that 100 cases of the disease were reported in Palaro Parish, Odek Sub-county in Gulu District, with another 45 reported in Paicho Parish.

Nodding patients
Meanwhile, the health ministry has so far screened 795 nodding disease patients. Thirteen are admitted to Atanga Health Centre II while 46 are admitted to Kitgum Hospital.

According to the national response coordinator, Dr Bernard Opar, the number could be less than what is on the ground but government has allocated us four motor vehicles.

“The 795 cases are those with the nodding disease syndrome and epilepsy. We also have cases of malnutrition but we hope to cover the entire districts and compare the statistics with those provided,” said Dr Opar, adding that the most affected areas are those surrounding River Agago and river Aswa in Pader District.

By Stephen Otage  (email the author) Posted  Tuesday, March 27  2012 at  00:00