Ugandan health officials have known about the disease for nearly 10 years. By 2006, after Kony was repulsed from Ugandan territory, health care providers had diagnosed several cases of epilepsy without stopping to ask why.
"This thing is old," said Emmanuel Tenywa, a World Health Organization official in northern Uganda. "After the war there were so many cases of epilepsy. That's how this thing started."
Yet serious steps to manage the disease were taken only in the last year after a group of parliamentarians accused the authorities of criminal negligence. The government then announced a $2.2 million plan. But the cash has been slow to reach treatment centers.
Sick children have remained stuck in villages where biting poverty sometimes combines with the inattention of caregivers. Children have been badly burned after falling in fires. Others have died falling into water, like Languna's 16-year-old girl. And it is common to see children tethered to trees by caregivers too busy to look after them.
In Languna's household alone, eight children suffer from the disease, including a 12-year-old boy whose growth is so stunted he looks half his age. Languna has given up on all of them.
"We lost a child who was so promising," he said. "But what pains us more is that these ones you see are destined to (die)."
Investigators said they are not certain the disease is non-communicable, but they advise against alarm.
In the absence of definitive answers, some here have been taking matters in their own hands by isolating the sick. At the Okidi primary school, which Labol attended before she drowned, teachers once attempted to segregate the children and then dropped the idea after being criticized. Since 2007 there have been 141 cases of nodding disease at the school, with seven ending in death.
Now sick children rarely come to school, science teacher Paska Atto said.
Luke Nyeko, the Kitgum chairman, is frequently stopped by parents demanding to know what exactly their children are suffering from or why they cannot be cured.
"I feel very bad, very bad," he said of encounters with distressed parents. "It's a bit tricky because you can't go and lie to them. We just tell them that we don't know the condition."
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