What’s causing the Nodding Syndrome that’s killing children in South Sudan and Northern Uganda

Uganda has been in the news recently since the resurgence in interest in the Lord’s Resistance Army’s leader  Joseph Kony, in particular his use of child soldiers. The irony being that the Ugandan army, the “Uganda People’s Defence Force” has child soldiers of it’s own, with 13 year old’s being accepted without question. Oddly, or rather not oddly, this didn’t seem to make it into the anti-Joseph Kony video that’s doing the rounds.

I mean don’t get me wrong, the guy is a douche-bag of the highest order. It’s just that in Uganda, it’s sometimes hard to spot which douche-bag is meant to be the “good guy”. It should be noted that Uganda has been under the control of a dictator Yoweri Museveni, who is guilty of mass murder and child slavery. I mean lets put it this way, Kony’s is responsible for the killing almost as many people as those who died during the World Trade Centre attacks in September 11. But nobody outside this enclave of Africa seems to give a crap.

What’s currently making the news is the resurgence (in the media that is) of Nodding Syndrome, a deadly disease that is first impairing and then killing South Sudanese children and those in Northern Uganda.

It should be noted that South Sudan borders North Uganda, which may be significant.

What we know

In 2009 the Centre for Disease Control started to get interested. Dr Scott Dowell, who formerly headed up the CDC’s Asian Bird Flu investigation, is now looking into it. From Andrew Harding’s report.

“We’d really like to get to the bottom of this… because it’s got a big impact on public health. It’s hugely important to the children and families affected. “

Then he seems to have a little too excited for decency and adds;

“It’s also interesting from a scientific point of view – the fact that we can’t figure it out. And thirdly, we are kind of hooked. “

Well, I’m glad he’s having such a good time.

“We’ve worked with the population over a couple of years and so we’re really committed to these communities,”

I assume he realised how bad his enthusiasm for a challenge sounded. Looking for the Higg’s boson is one thing. …

The CDC puts the confirmed cases at 194, but others put it around 3,000. It’s hard to tell and the remoteness of the region doesn’t help.

But something they have discovered, which is of significance, is that unlike other debilitating diseases, this one cannot be transmitted from person to person.

“We have the funding we need to do our investigations. We are pursuing a number of leads and haven’t run out of leads,” he said.

Signs of the disease started as early as 2003. At the height of the Lord’s Resistance Army attacks on Southern Sudan.

So what can we speculate?

It’s both disturbing and interesting that only children seem to be affected. Or rather, that the signs are appearing in children first. I’m putting it this way, because it’s not made clear whether adults are affecting at all, or whether this is a genuinely “child only” disease.

As it’s not communicable, you can only come down to a short number of options. As it’s clearly NOT likely to be genetic; you can only assume that the problem must be environmental. That is to say, the environment that these people are living.

The affected populations all live within a fairly small (in African terms) area around the South Sudan / Uganda border. Basically from above Gulu in Uganda to Juba in South Sudan.

Uganda ratified the Chemical Weapons Treaty on the 6th of December 2001. But Sudan, no, in fact it has been implicated in a number of chemical and biological attacks on the people of the region. None of which were condemned to anywhere near the same degree as, for example, the Assad regime in Syria.

In 2000 Damien Lewis (no, not that one) wrote and directed a rather harrowing documentary about Sudan’s usage of Chemical weapons during the civil war… what would be for the independence of SOUTH Sudan. You getting the picture here?

Other than the possibility it’s some kind of natural fungal or bacterial agent in the area, you do have to wonder WHAT exactly has been sprayed onto the people of South Sudan… and where did they get it from.

Needless to say, this is a story I’ll be coming back to and keeping an eye on.

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