Discuss as:

Mysterious 'nodding syndrome' afflicts children in war-torn Uganda

James Akena / Reuters

Children suffering from nodding syndrome gather in Akoya-Lamin Omony village in Gulu district, 238 miles north of Uganda's capital of Kampala on Sunday. Nodding syndrome, which mostly affects children under 15, was first documented in Tanzania as early as 1962. However, despite extensive investigations, researchers are still largely confounded by it. Most of the fatalities attributed to the disease are the result of secondary causes. Children with nodding syndrome are prone to accidents such as drowning and burning.

James Akena / Reuters

Okello Reagan, 11, who is suffering from nodding syndrome, sits with his peers in Akoya-Lamin Omony village in Gulu district.

Stringer / Reuters

Nancy Lamwaka, 12, who is suffering from nodding syndrome, is tied to a rope as she sits out in the open in Lapul.

Stringer / Reuters

Nancy Lamwaka, 12, who is suffering from nodding syndrome, is tied to a rope as she walks in Lapul.

A story from Radio France Internationale explains that the illness is characterized by repetitive dropping forward of the head, and that affected children are stunted, malnourished and dehydrated:

The disease was first reported in northern Uganda in 2009 but health experts diagnosed it as epilepsy. The disease has attracted international attention due to the progressively worsening head nodding, cognitive decline and malnutrition among suffering children.

"We knew that the children had this bizarre nodding but the explanation for the nodding was not known," Dr. Scott Dowell explains. "Since December 2009 we have documented the cause for the nodding itself and found that these children have a severe seizure disorder."

Uganda’s health ministry, with the help of CDC, has conducted a series of investigations to establish the cause of the disease but has so far not come up with any results.

According to Wikipedia's article about nodding disease, the seizures begin when the victim tries to eat food, or sometimes when he or she feels cold.

Nodding syndrome described at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.