Uganda begins drive to register ‘nodding disease’ cases

By March 20, 2012

Uganda (MNN) — A terrifying, mysterious disease has taken more than 3,000 Ugandan children captive.

"Nodding disease" has been in northern Uganda for the last three years, but only last week the country began the drive to register cases. At this point, over 200 children have been killed by the debilitating disease. And without a cure, the problem seems far from over.

"In the last month we have found this very puzzling and frightening disease that has occurred among young children. The children range in age from 5 to 15," says Bas Vanderzalm of Medical Teams International.

"The disease is called ‘nodding disease' because that's exactly what happens. Children have convulsions, they begin to nod, and they are unable to eat," adds Vanderzalm.

The disease also affects children mentally. Seizures often leave children unaware of their surroundings, unable to speak, or unable to see. Many children are now reported to be nothing more than shells of the sons and daughters they once were.

Wandering off or starting fires are two common results of the mental deficiency. Many kids have wandered off for days at a time, and others have set their homes–or even themselves–on fire.

Vanderzalm says a lack of awareness puts kids in constant danger. "What happens is that these children, when they have these convulsions, fall into fires. Many have received serious burns. Some have wondered away and been lost, and died in the forest and jungle there."

Families have few options. "It is a very difficult disease for their families because they need to provide 24-hour care for their children."

Families providing this kind of care are unable to plant their crops–a dilemma which has long-term effects. Other parents have resorted to tying their children to trees out of desperation for the safety of their kids.

Nodding syndrome has gripped children of other nations in the past. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been trying to find a cause and a cure for the disease for years. So far, nothing has been confirmed, except for the believed hope that the disease is not contagious.

Medical Teams International is stepping in as they can. The ministry has been working in Uganda since 2004 and has been sending medical help for children suffering from nodding disease. Although there is not a cure, Vanderzalm says some medicines can prevent seizures. The ministry has been able to partner with local churches to provide medical care.

Medical Teams International has also been able to step in to help families who are overwhelmed with the care responsibilities of affected children. The ministry has started informing other communities about the disease as well.

In an increasingly hopeless and overwhelming situation, Medical Teams International recognizes that Christ is the only hope these families have. Vanderzalm says he believes the Ugandans know this, too. Medical Teams International is doing all they can to be Christ to those struggling with this difficult situation.

You can help Medical Teams International reach families dealing with nodding disease. $30 will help provide medicine for a child for a month. To help, visit

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