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Children's Brain Disease Through War Trauma?

David Okot, 15, suffers from a strange affliction that makes her nod vigorously at the sight of food. But the crux of the problem was that David suffered from a mysterious condition that preys only on children. It has no official name, but is known informally as "nodding disease."

Experts from the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Ugandan Ministry of Health have concluded that it's a brain disease, but they can't determine the cause and there's no effective treatment.

A recent study identified nearly 2,000 children with the condition in three districts of northern Uganda. Others are affected in neighbouring Sudan and Tanzania. In David's village, almost every family has at least one child with the disease.

The first symptom is an involuntary nodding of the head and brief losses of consciousness, as if the child is falling asleep. Over time they often begin to have seizures, experience stunted growth and develop mental retardation. The children usually have to drop out of school and are unable to work, becoming a burden to their families. Nodding disease seems to be indiscriminate. Some of the brightest minds in medicine have been tying themselves in knots trying to determine the cause.

One theory, which is being studied at Makerere University in Uganda's capital, Kampala, is that nodding disease could be linked to psycho-trauma. The region is the former home and stronghold of Joseph Kony and his brutal guerrilla group the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). Thousands of people there were displaced by the rebels, who've been accused of systematic murder, rape and kidnapping of children over the last 25 years.

Officials from the CDC and the World Health Organization have told us that more research is needed, but it's unclear whether the resources will be forthcoming.

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