By Chelsea Sweeney
Diseases such as AIDS and malaria have been the main focus of worldwide campaigns designed to raise awareness and find a cure. Sicknesses such as these certainly deserve the dedication given to eliminate them, as they have taken the lives of millions in Africa. But less talked about is a fatal neurological sickness affecting children, spreading through northern Uganda and the surrounding area. This illness, called nodding disease, is a serious and mysterious condition with no cure in sight.
This sickness was first observed in the 1960’s in Tanzania. Children with this disease are affected by seizures that appear as if the child is simply nodding off and losing focus. But they are not simply slipping into some afternoon daydream. This is the beginning of a series of seizures that will slowly worsen and affect the child’s development. The triggers of the seizures are common things such as food, heat, and cold weather. If a simple activity such as eating triggers seizures, then children will begin to eat less and less, creating stunted physical development. As the seizures worsen, it is common for the children to fall down, or wander off, usually harming themselves in the process. It eventually reaches a point where they cannot function on their own. The stigma in many communities is enormous, and children in the latest stages of seizures have been compared to zombies.
Nodding disease has affected over 3000 children, primarily between 5 and 15, and approximately 170 have died. No one knows where this disease comes from, or what could cure it. The Ugandan government has taken some action to stop it, creating nodding disease screening centers. The WHO is also closely involved in research and treatment. They have discovered that anti-epilepsy medication helps, but does not cure this disease. Many scientists believe that there is a connection between this sickness and a worm that causes a disease called river blindness. But while there are always cases of river blindness diagnosed where nodding disease is common, there are many areas of Africa with high river blindness rates and no sign of nodding disease. It is a strange case that will likely remain unsolved in the near future.This post reflects the author’s personal opinions, not the opinions of Arizona Model United Nations.