MINISTER of Health Sylvia Masebo says government is following up, monitoring and investigating some suspected movement disorders at Lunte Boarding School in Northern Province.
Meanwhile, Dr Aaron Mujajati says he expects the Ministry of Health to constitute a team of doctors who are physicians, neurologists, infectious disease specialists, pathologists and psychiatrists to look into the case.
On Sunday evening, videos of some pupils at the said school seemingly failing to walk in a coordinated manner appeared on social media.
Lunte PF member of parliament Mutotwe Kafwaya posted on his Facebook account that there was a strange disease which had hit Lunte Technical School.
“There is a strange disease which has hit us at Lunte Technical School in Lunte District of Northern Province, which is currently under investigation.The condition appears to be attacking the nervous system causing patients to lose their firmness. Samples have been drawn from the affected children and dispatched to Lusaka for diagnostic purposes. We remain hopeful in our health care system that a quick diagnosis will enable a rapid effective management of the cases. Meanwhile the local health team will continue to assess the school environment in a bid to understand what could be the cause for this strange disease. We continue to pray for the healing grace of our God Almighty to abound in order for our children to receive not only quick but complete recovery from the mercy seat,” stated Kafwaya.
And in a statement read on her behalf by Ministry of Health permanent secretary for technical services Professor Lackson Kasonka, Monday, Masebo revealed that 27 pupils at Lunte Boarding School reported similar similar signs and symptoms of difficulty in walking, weakness, and painful knees and ankles.
“We are also following up on some suspected movement disorders from Lunte Boarding School in Northern Province. The school has a total of 583 pupils, 26 teachers, and 26 support staff. On 21st June, the school reported numerous cases of pupils reporting similar signs and symptoms of difficulty in walking, weakness, and painful knees and ankles. Of the 27 pupils affected, 15 were sent back home by the school management for observation. The rest of those with mild symptoms remained in school,” Masebo said.
“These pupils were placed in a designated isolation area within the school confines. Health workers have been assigned to monitor the pupils’ conditions daily. To date, 18 recoveries were reported from among both those pupils sent home and those under school isolation. I wish to offer the affected pupils and their families my assurance that this suspected movement disorder may not be a public health emergency.”
And Masebo said 17 measles cases had so far been detected in Mushindano district.
“To date, 17 measles cases have been confirmed positive from Mushindano district, 2 from Kalumbila and 1 from Solwezi. We will continue monitoring these outbreaks even as we investigate further suspects,” said Masebo.
Meanwhile, Mujajati said he expected the Ministry of Health to constitute a team of doctors who are physicians, neurologists, infectious disease specialists, pathologists and psychiatrists to look into the case.
“To begin with, in a situation like this one the most important thing is to get a diagnosis and to do so history taking, examination and investigations (tests) need to be done. Here we will endeavour to share the approach and thought process that the doctors will take. Looking at the videos it is obvious to note that the victims have a disorder of balance and movement. The body part responsible for balance is a part of the brain called the cerebellum and its connections. Unusually when this part of the brain is affected people present with loss of coordination and balance of legs, slurred speech, uncontrolled eye movement, difficulties eating, vocal changes to mention the main features. The medical term for this is ataxia (cerebellar Ataxia). From that video one would be forgiven for making an affectation to the cerebellum a top priority in their approach to this case,” he said
“Having identified the most likely part of the brain that could be affected, the next task the attending doctors will do is to find the disease process or the cause of the damage. In this regard there are a few considerations. The doctors will first ask themselves if this is an infectious or a non infectious process. Usually from history and examination a distinction can be made and if it is not obvious they will rely on the results of the tests. Because the disease is affecting several individuals in a specific geolocation here are some of the common causes that they will be thinking about, Infections, commonly viral infections (chicken pox, mumps, measles, hepatitis A etc.) and some bacterial infections, Exposure to heavy metals (mercury, lead etc), Nutritional deficiencies (vitamin B12, vitamin B1 and Vitamin E), Poisoning (illicit alcoholic drinks), Mass hysteria (a mental illness that manifests as a physical disease that affects a group of people due to group anxiety. Very common in boarding schools.”
He said people should avoid speculating and allow the Ministry of Health to take the lead on this matter.
“We have said all this to say the following, Take this case off social media and allow the doctors to come back to us with a diagnosis. No one knows if this is treatable, or if it is dangerous until we have a diagnosis, we expect that the ministry of health will constitute a team of doctors to look into the case. The team will most likely include the following, a physician, a neurologist, an infectious disease specialist, a pathologist and a psychiatrist. In conclusion, for the sake of the affected victims and their relatives let us avoid speculating and allow the Ministry of Health to take the lead on this matter. As for this page we will wait patiently for the diagnosis and as soon as we get full information we will go into details to explain it as we do any other disease,” said Dr Mujajati.