Progress Report: Test Subject 'ME'

Wednesday, 18 January 2012
For the past week I have been experiencing 'Phase 1' of my transition from worker-bee to student.
  • With the removal of menial corporate tasks from her daily regime, the subject has shown positive signs of self-improvement.
  • Outbursts of rage have reduced greatly and insomnia has been rendered nearly non-existent.
  • The subject is responding well (albeit not overzealously) to the newly implemented morning exercise routine and healthier diet.
  • Increased exposure to the sun has yielded good results and the subject is showing good levels of bronzing. 
  • Overall, the subject is stable and docile for large parts of the day. However, during lapses of diminished optimism, the subject seeks comfort in safer activities including, but not limited to, watching episodes of her favourite series', surfing the web and playing computer games.
  • Since classes do not officially start until early February, prolonged exposure to comfort activities might cause the subject to relapse into uncontrolled MMO-RPGing.
  • The current exercise and diet regime will be maintained for the remainder of the transformation.
  • Daily doses of preparation and planning will be administered to counteract signs of brain-lag and / or diminished conversational capacity..
  • In emergent cases of de-motivation, 10cc doses of optimism will be administered every three hours until subject stabilizes.
As you should be able to deduce from the report, everything seems to be going according to schedule and I am well on my way to becoming a university student (again). If you are a first time university student I hope that you too are running on schedule.

Living the Nightmare

Saturday, 7 January 2012

In the shade of a kubwa tree, clouds start to roll in over the great African plain while a woman watches from afar as her child nods off to sleep. But her face is pained, for she knows that pleasant dreams won’t soon come for him. Like many of his friends, he is suffering from the strange and unexplained symptoms of Nodding Disease. She has been neglecting her duties for days now and food and water supplies are running dangerously low. Leaving him unattended isn’t a risk that she takes lightly; the burns on his body still bear mute witness to the seizure that had left him helpless in the flames of their cooking fire. She would have to tie him up inside the hut before leaving for the fields so that he doesn’t wander off.

The disease, mainly affecting children between the ages of 5 and 15, is named after its most noticeable symptom. Children appear to be nodding off, their eyes closing and their heads getting heavy despite them being wide awake. This behaviour has been linked to seizure activity that usually begins when the affected eats food or, in some cases, when they are cold. Other symptoms include, but are not limited to:
  • seemingly permanent stunted growth
  • brain atrophy
  • difficulty focusing and concentrating in class
  • body stiffness
  • running nose and saliva
  • occasional defecation and urination during an attack
Many of the affected children are malnourished, a direct consequence of their parents being afraid to feed them lest it induces a seizure. Nutrition isn't the only aspect of their lives taking a turn for the worst; some 1500 children in the Acholi sub-region have dropped out of their schools as a result of the disease.

Chronologically, the reported occurrences of the disease are:
1960’s:Several children with attacks of “Nodding Head” were observed in Mahenge Village in southern Tanzania by L. Jilek-Aall.
2003:Approximately 300 cases were reported in South Sudan’s Mundri District alone.
2009:The disease spreads to Uganda’s Kitgum District and the Ugandan Ministry of Health declared more than 2000 children affected.
2012:Outbreaks have been reported in the Kitgum, Pader, Gulu and Lamwo districts with roughly 4000 affected and 200 children dead.

Health experts and local leaders have been unable to pinpoint the cause or mode of transmission of the disease and very few children are said to have recovered from it. Some say the disease may be caused by the effects of the biological and chemical weapons used during the two-decade insurgency in the area. Another possible cause is said to be consumption of tainted food such as spoiled plants or meat, especially monkey meat.

Other investigations have shown that there might be a connection between Nodding Disease and infestations of the parasitic worm Onchocerca volvulus, which is prevalent in all outbreak areas and is known for causing Onchocerciasis (also known as River Blindness). The WHO’s Dr. Emmanuel Tenywa has noted that almost all of the affected children have Onchocerciasis. In a 2008 study researchers published that something they called “Head Nodding Syndrome”, might possibly be a new form of epilepsy disorder in sub-Saharan Africa.
“MRI lesions and their association with positive skin PCR for O. volvulus despite negative PCR of the CSF is intriguing and deserves attention. “
Relatively little is still known about the disease and authorities have only recently started taking notice of it. Health Ministry officials have finally agreed to visit affected areas and assess the situation a week after the Acholi Parliamentary Group warned that they would camp at the Ministry’s headquarters to mourn the children. The governmental team is expected to deliver medicine to health centres, carry out epilepsy check-ups, intensify training of health workers and sensitise more people on how to handle the sufferers.

Nodding Disease may not been seen as one of the notorious diseases of our time but it has a disastrous impact on the lives of thousands of families every day. I sincerely hope that this article will help spread awareness about this mysterious disease and the horrible effects that it has on the people in its path.

Global Health Frontline News
Wiley Online Library
World Health Organization
The Saturday Monitor - Nodding Disease: MPs threaten to ferry ill children to Kampala
The Saturday Monitor - Officials to visit Nodding hit areas
H5N1 Blog
Wikipedia - Nodding Disease
Wikipedia - Onchocera Volvus


2012: Out with the Old and in with the New

Thursday, 5 January 2012

As another year dawns, we find ourselves filled with new resolutions (and possibly newly acquired 'holiday handles'). We may still be used to vacation sleeping patterns and the year is already picking up pace, but the holidays have also left us with renewed vitality. For me, this is going to be a year filled with change and challenges and tomorrow marks my last as part of the working class. By the end of it, I will no longer go under the old title of 'Senior Software Test Analyst'  and assume a brand new one: Tuks Undergrad'.

Luckily, the hustle and bustle of administrative tasks, registration, sorting out of schedules and accumulation of stationery will only start towards the end of the month, by which time I hope to have adjusted from being an opinionated, mid-twenty-something desk junky to a fun and focused undergrad (It's very likely that I will still be opinionated to a very high degree). With a little bit of luck, this transformation will render me less of a Hyde  and more of a Jekyll. I will keep you updated on how that unfolds.

The journey I am about to undertake will surely be filled with Tachycardia and Dyspnea but I am confident that as soon as I know how to pronounce those words (this should happen round about the same time that I master the signs and treatments thereof - one can only hope) my vitals will have stabilized and I will once again appear 'normal'.

I have been working on a piece that I hope to complete soon, so dust of your thinking caps and spring clean your brain for a great many interesting posts awaiting your thoughts, comments and input.