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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.



-          Invisible Children (2003)

In the spring of 2003, three young filmmakers travelled to Africa in search of a story. What started out as a filmmaking adventure transformed into much more when these boys discovered a tragedy that disgusted and inspired them, a tragedy where children are both the weapons and the victims. After returning to the States, they created the documentary "Invisible Children: Rough Cut". The film was the beginning of the non-profit Invisible Children, Inc. that started several campaigns in order to highlight the need to stop the Congolese warlord Joseph Kony and shed light on the fate of his victims.  On Sunday, December 11 Cinema for Peace and the Office of the Prosecutor will honour Invisible Children with the JUSTITIA Award for the civic campaign of the year at the JUSTICE Gala in New York.

The film was the beginning of the non-profit Invisible Children, Inc. that will be honoured with the JUSTITIA Award on Sunday at the JUSTICE Gala. They receive the Award for their relentless efforts to highlight the need to stop the LRA and arrest Joseph Kony.


-   Triage: Dr. James Orbinski’s Humanitarian Dilemma (2008) by Patrick Reed

Acclaimed doctor James Orbinski, former head of Doctors Without Borders, returns to Africa to confront the harsh reality of conditions there and explores what it means to be a humanitarian.


-   Back Home Tomorrow (2008)

Lazzaretti and Paolo Santolini share the moving stories of two children affected by war. Yagoub who has to undergo a  serious heart operation fled with his family from Darfur and now lives in the Mayo Refugee Camp in the Sudanese capital Khartoum. Murtaza is recuperating in a hospital in Kabul after losing his left hand to a landmine.