Government has given in to demands from Members of Parliament to urgently address the nodding disease syndrome in Northern Uganda.
This was prompted by the moving presentation made to the plenary of Parliament by Prof David Kitara Lagoro, an expert in the treatment and rehabilitation of children affected by the disease. The Deputy Speaker, Jacob Oulanyah who chaired the House on Wednesday, 14 March 2018 invited Dr Lagoro in accordance with Rule 220(2) the Rules of procedure.
The Rule states that, Distinguished persons from within or without the nation may be allowed by the Speaker to address the House on any matter of importance.
According to Lagoro, the only rehabilitation centre in Kitgum was closed in 2005 after the Non-Governmental Organization that was operating it failed due to the high costs. He told the MPs that since the centre was closed, many deaths have been recorded and yet these could be avoided if the children were rehabilitated.
Nodding disease syndrome is treatable and children rehabilitated can live near-normal lives. It is my humble request that government provides Shs1.2 billion annually to run at least two rehabilitation centres so that we can save the lives of these children, said Lagoro.
The Minister of State for Health, Hon. Sarah Opendi told the MPs that government will re-open the two rehabilitation centres.
The ministry will find money to operationalize the rehabilitation centres in Kitgum and Pader districts, said Opendi.
The Minister of State for Finance (Planning), Hon. David Bahati gave assurance that his ministry will release the money once a request is made.
Government treats the situation of the nodding disease as an emergency and will respond accordingly so as to save lives of the children, said Bahati.
The Minister of State for Northern Uganda, Grace Freedom Kwiyucwiny said that the Office of the Prime Minister will provide Shs3.7 billion through the Northern Uganda Social Action Fund, (NUSAF) to support the families affected by the nodding disease syndrome.
She said that the intervention will target households in districts affected by the disease and these include; 435 in Kitgum, 645 in Pader, 205 in Omoro, 225 in Gulu, 271 in Lamwo, 10 in Lira and 46 in Amuru.
The families will help us in identifying their specific needs and activities which can improve their livelihoods, said Kwiyuchwiny.
Government's commitment follows a heated debate by Members of Parliament who accused government of handling the situation reluctantly.
Hon. Elijah Okupa (FDC, Kasilo County) accused the government of lying to Ugandans that the nodding disease could not be treated.
Minister Sarah Opendi has done bad public relations for the ministry in regard to the nodding disease syndrome. She has not handled the issue well and yet children are dying. Let funds be released now because the disease cannot wait, said Okupa.
Hon. Fred Mwesigye said that government exhibited a high level of laxity while handling the situation in Northern Uganda.
The disease is not new in Uganda and the minister cannot prove what government has done to curb the situation since 2012. The elusive performance of the minister is unacceptable, said Mwesigye.
The MPs from the Acholi Parliamentary Group equally expressed disappointment over the figures of the disease burden and deaths that were given by the Minister.
Kilak County MP Hon. Gilbert Olanya said that the number of children affected so far stands at 3,145 while the deaths recorded are 1,120.
Olanya called for a census of children who have healed, conducting a needs assessment on the families affected by the disease and responding to their needs.
Government needs to improve on sensitization of the communities about the nodding disease syndrome, added Olanya.
Nodding disease syndrome is a neurological disorder affecting the nervous system. It affects children between the ages of 3-18, and those in a specific geographical location during a specific period. The nodding disease syndrome presents with seizures, head nodding, cognitive impairment and multiple disabilities. The disease has also affected children in Tanzania and South Sudan.
Source: Parliament of Uganda