Doctor in Uganda fighting a disease called superstition

Superstitious disease in the news in Uganda.

‘Numbers’ that kill?.

Dr. Thomas Lutalo of the ministry of Health is battling an unusual condition. He is in charge of investigating reports of a `strange disease’ in parts of central Uganda which emerges as a number on the skin of a patient. It is said that, like a scene depicted in horror movies, the `number’ represents the remaining days of life for the patient. After the days elapse, it is said, the patient dies.

Now, that is where Dr. Lutalo’s problem actually is to be found. Everybody has heard of someone who has died of the numbers disease, but no one has seen one die. The symptoms of the disease in addition to skin marks are said to be fever, vomiting, diarrhea, and in some cases abdominal pain.

In one case, Lutalo says, the body of one suspected case that had passed away was examined and found to be pale and deeply jaundiced with rashes on the forehead and upper limbs.

“It could have been mistaken for numbers yet it could be a skin infection just like ring worms or any other disease,” Lutalo says.

Strange indeed. Is it something else that people think looks like numbers? Then they freak themselves out or scare themselves sick? The local doctor said he hasn’t seen a case of it but people should see their doctor, not try out magically remedies for themselves, such as tying thread around your body which can be really dangerous.

Maybe it’s the generalness of the search terms but I can’t find any other references to this legend of numbers and death. Anyone?

But Dr. Lutalo is real. I found this. He’s having a bit of a hard time battling public superstition.

Standard Digital News – Strange disease makes Ugandans to run all over like headless chicken.

It is disturbing that a recommended treatment is a placebo shot and prayer. But for a fake disease, fake treatment. (Is that ethical? It’s not clear the doctor recommends this). The doctor blames the culture being behind the times. If they just had the internet, he says, they could find out it wasn’t real. Oh dear. What else would they find?

But seriously, poor economic conditions result in people making desperate choices and relying on superstitions like witch doctors and magic talismans. It’s common all over.

  1 comment for “Doctor in Uganda fighting a disease called superstition

  1. Bill D'Arcy
    June 18, 2014 at 11:44 AM

    Re: Legend of numbers and death…

    I spent about 15 minutes on the web and the nearest I got was this site:

    For $2.98 you can download a profile called “Uganda Superstitions and Folklore: a profile of the folklore, legends, proverbs,and superstitions of Uganda.” This might might be worth $2.98 towards your answer, but I’ll keep my money in my pocket.

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