Acholi MPs, Cabinet row over nodding disease deepens

SENABULYA MASSO

After days of trading counter accusations between Acholi MPs and cabinet ministers in regard to the plight of victims of the nodding disease syndrome, a group of legislators have taken up investigations to privately establish the magnitude of the disease, and the lukewarm response from government.

Last week, the MPs accused the state minister for Health in charge of General duties Sarah Opendi of falsifying the figures of the mysterious disease’s victims before the Deputy Speaker of Parliament
Jacob Oulanyah weighed in by accusing the government of being insensitive to the victims.

Opendi had told Parliament that since 2012 when the disease broke out in northern Uganda, 137 deaths had been recorded while 2,143 people are recorded to be suffering with the disease.

Her figures were countered by Kilak MP Gilbert Olanya who told Parliament that 1,120 people had so far died from the disease not 137 that Opendi reported while the current number of patients stands at 3,145 as opposed to Opendi’s 2,143.

Lands state minister Dr Chris Baryomunsi tried to back up Opendi but could not match the Acholi MPs’ overwhelming evidence.

This was followed by Oulanyah’s attack on the Ministry of Health that he accused of being insensitive to the plight of the nodding disease syndrome victims. He also warned the executive against backbiting him during their cabinet sittings.

Deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanyah walks out of Parliament’s VIP room for one of last week’s heated plenary sittings

“Those who were attacking me in cabinet are here looking at me, they come here and sit like dignified persons yet people are dying… let’s stop pretending about these things please… that is why they (cabinet) did not discuss this matter because they down played it,” Oulanyah said.

A special sitting of Parliament meant to chart a way forward on initiatives to take care of victims of the nodding disease syndrome was abandoned last Friday after the Ministry of Health indicated that there would be no money to fund initiatives against the disease in next financial year’s budget.

In visiting the disease prone districts, the MPs intend to gather more data about the disease with a hope of putting the government on more pressure to make the necessary funds available.
“There was a contradiction in Parliament last week over the statistics which the ministry is giving and what the Members of Parliament had. We want to find out who is fooling who,” Jonam MP
Emmanuel Ongertho said.

Ongertho’s view is reinforced by his Kumi Municipality counterpart Silas Aogan who said that they want to return to the floor of the House and debate with adequate information.

“There are a number of deaths reported ,you find people reporting differing figures ,so we are concerned asking what is happening ,that is why some people are saying , “when we are handling other matters, we are quick to find money  to fix the situation,”  how about such a matter of health concern that leads to death.” Aogon said.

Last week Parliament passed a resolution that 1.2 billion shillings should be provided to help the suffering children but the Ministry of Health has indicated that the money may not be found.

According to World Health Organization (WHO), nodding disease mainly affects children between the ages of five and 15 years. It is said to be a form of epilepsy that robs its victims of their
mental capacity, stunts their growth and causes both the characteristic “nodding-off” motion which gives its name and more serious seizures, often when a child begins to eat or when they feel
cold.

The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) is investigating a possible connection with wartime chemical exposure and a possible connection to Vitamin B deficiency.