The first international scientific meeting on Nodding Syndrome has opened in Uganda’s capital Kampala, attracting over 100 experts. The four-day meeting will see experts from around the world discuss and find a way forward on a number of issues including a standardised way to define cases of Nodding Syndrome (NS); whether NS is syndrome or a diseases and the association that seems to exist between Onchocerciasis and NS. This is the first time that scientists, researchers, policy makers and stakeholders have gathered to review the current knowledge on NS, identify critical research needs and develop plans for its management .
The experts are from the U.S Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), Non-Governmental Organisations and local doctors. They are holding discussions around the disease to try and trigger the first discovery of the cure or vaccine. Nodding disease broke out in 2003 and has registered an estimated 3,502 cases to date in the northern districts of Lamwo, Gulu, Oyam, Pader, Amuru, Kitgum and Lira. The meetings are expected to review findings from research already completed by CDC Uganda before agreeing on key strategies to be implemented to address the problem.
Uganda’s minister of health Dr. Christine Ondoa opened the meeting and called on the over 100 scientists to urgently “harmonise the case definition for NS” which is critical to ongoing surveillance and treatment efforts. She urged the participants to define the key interventions for treatment of NS and to establish a research framework for the syndrome. Dr. Ondoa reported that the health ministry of Health was notified about the NS in Northern Uganda in August 2009 and initially attributed the problem to post‐traumatic stress disorders as the region was recovering from a long civil war.
Six adjacent districts in South Sudan have continued to report new cases of the syndrome, although the actual burden is not known. In Liberia and Tanzania, an unusually high prevalence of the disease among children remains not well documented. Surveillance among neighbouring districts has been strengthened. Dr Ondoa said the ministry has established three screening and treatment centers in the most affected districts. Dr Ondoa noted that the ministry also conducts screening and treatment outreach programmes to areas that are distant from the health facilities.
WHO Country Representative Dr Joaquim Saweka noted that the Nodding Syndrome does not occur in isolation, other diseases and conditions including Malaria, Tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, among others, do not spare the communities affected by the NS. Dr Saweka said: “WHO insists that the response to Nodding Syndrome needs to be integrated and looked at within the context of the health systems….. We need to strengthen the health systems generally to handle the common diseases and conditions in the country, which will include the Nodding Syndrome.”
The CDC‐Uganda Country Director Dr. Tadesse Wuhib reported that his organisation has deployed three multi‐disciplinary teams in Northern Uganda have made tremendous progress in the NS investigations. Nodding disease dates as far back as 1962 when several children with attacks of “nodding head” were registered in Mahenge village in southern Tanzania. Eighteen years later, it was reported in Sudan. In 2008, the disease was reported in northern Uganda, affecting children between the age of two and 15. A child with nodding disease becomes stunted mentally and physically. The disease has claimed a number of lives in northern Uganda.
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