KAMPALA, The findings of an investigation conducted in the US to determine the cause of nodding syndrome in Uganda are scheduled to be released on Monday.

Health minister, Dr Elioda Tumwesigye announced that the report on the ailment that had ravaged parts of northern Uganda was ready.

River blindness, known technically as Onchocerciasis, is a parasitic disease caused by a worm transmitted by an infected female black fly which breeds in fast flowing rivers and streams.

People suffering from the disease live with severe itching and may develop skin nodules, leopard skin and blurred vision that often leads to permanent blindness if untreated.

According to the minister, the findings show a clear link between nodding syndrome and river blindness, which affected many communities in northern Uganda.

Dr Elioda explained that the disease could have emerged as a result of the immune system’s response to river blindness, which was rampant in northern Uganda.

“There is clear correlation between nodding syndrome and onchocersiasis. Scientists have been able to show that there is auto-immunity in response to onchocersiasis,” Dr Elioda stated.

Nodding syndrome was first detected in Kitgum, Pader and Lamwo in 2009. At least 3,000 cases were reported but by 2011, although more cases later emerged in Lira, Gulu and Oyam.

Patients with nodding syndrome struggle with uncontrollable nodding of the head, convulsions, mental retardation and stunted growth.

Initial investigations have linked the condition to epilepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder and ochocerciasis (river blindness) that is spread by the black fly.

In May 2014, Government flew 10 people suffering from the mysterious nodding syndrome to the National Institute of Health in Washington DC US for genetic tests.

Treatment of cases has focused mainly on control of convulsions by giving patients Sodium Valproate, Carbamazepine, and Vitamin B Complex as a supplement.

Brain samples from five victims were also flown to the US Centres for Disease Control in the US for analysis, and a preliminary autopsy report showed that three of them had identical lesions in the same region of the brain, whose cause was unknown at the time.

The new report will help address myths held by people affected by nodding syndrome, including one that it is due to evil spirits of the dead who were not buried.

By May 2014, a total of 3,320 cases of nodding syndrome had been registered and treated, as well as 5,185 cases of epilepsy. The highest cases were from Kitgum and Pader.

There are 11 confirmed deaths linked to nodding disease.

According to a 2014 report from the health ministry, at least 46% of people with nodding syndrome have suffered physical disabilities, speech difficulties (27.3%), visual impairment (8%), hearing impairment (11.5%) and dental carries (36.5%).

River blindness

For two days since Tuesday, health experts have met at a regional conference in Kampala to review Africa’s progress to fight river blindness.

The conference brings together health experts, including health ministers and researchers from 23 African countries to assess efforts eliminate the disease in high-burden countries.

An assessment by the World Health Organisation and other health agencies shows that the burden of river blindness is reducing on the continent.

In Uganda, river blindness has been eliminated in 13 districts and transmission interrupted in more 13 districts, according to a status report on the disease.

The districts where the disease has been eliminated include Kabarole, Kyenjojo, Kamwenge, Ibanda, Ruburizi, Buhweju, Hoima, Mbale, Bududa, Sironko and Manafwa.

Another 13 districts are under surveillance are awaiting verification by a team from the World Health Organisation before they can be declared river blindness-free.

However, in spite of the progress, more than 3.9 million Ugandans are at risk of acquiring infection and more than 1.4 million are already infected, statistics reveal.

Over 5,000 people are living with impaired vision resulting from river blindness and the disease is still endemic in 36 districts.

Globally, Onchocerciasis is endemic in 35 countries where more than 120 million people are at risk of acquiring the infection.

In Africa, the disease is endemic in 31 countries where 37 million are infected, 800,000 are visually impaired and 270,000 are blind due to the disease.



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