Some men in northern Uganda are exploiting the loss of memory caused by the nodding syndrome to take advantage of underage victims of the illness.
Atanga health centre III, in Pader district, which is a nodding syndrome treatment centre, has so far registered two cases of girls below 18, who have been impregnated by men they cannot remember.
“One is 14 years old and she has just delivered a baby,” said David Nokrach, who is in charge of the health centre. “We were informed about her condition by the village health teams.”
The other girl, a 13-year-old from Lagudi village, is still pregnant and has been referred to Kitgum hospital because her case is deemed special.
“The men know very well that these girls are very weak and incapable of remembering a lot of things but they have gone ahead to impregnate them,” Nokrach said. “We believe these cases are not only here but in other villages.”
He said the baby born of the 14-year-old nodding syndrome patient had not shown any signs of abnormality. A mother to one of the nodding syndrome child-mothers said her daughter, now 14, started showing signs of the syndrome seven years ago, and had to drop out of school in senior two.
“I was shocked to realize that she was pregnant recently and both of us do not know who the father of the child is,” the mother said last week.
The teen-mum, unconsciously tortures the child whenever the seizures and fits occur and sometimes she wants nothing to do with the child.
“The sickness makes her ignore her child, but when she is fine she really takes care of the child, like last week she came to me when the baby was asleep and she was worried that someone had taken the child, and I had to tell her the child was okay,” the mother said.
Still, her mother has to force her to breastfeed the child and also hold the breast to the mouth of the child as she can start nodding anytime. The child-mother is on medication, which is promising, to get her out of the worrying condition at the treatment centre. Information Minister Mary Karooro Okurut sent out a stern warning to the men to who take advantage of the girls.
“How dare you waylay, rape and impregnate these survivors? You are making their world very hopeless and if you are got, you should be imprisoned for life,” Karooro said.