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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 May, 2004, 11:02 GMT 12:02 UK
Parents angry at mystery fainting
Schoolgirls at Maendeleo Primary School in Iringa, Tanzania
27 girls have been affected by the mysterious illness
There is disquiet in southern Tanzania over an illness causing young girls at a primary school to faint.

Last week the school was forced to close for three days after 18 students fainted in one day.

Angry parents have protested to the school, accusing teachers of bewitching their children, after doctors found nothing medically wrong with them.

But a medical officer says the phenomenon may be caused by a neurosis related to local links with witchcraft.

One of the girls to be affected by the fainting is Harriet Salewa, an 11-year-old pupil at the Maendeleo Primary School in Iringa.

Only girls affected

"I've been falling down at school," she says. "I feel dizzy, and lose consciousness."

"I'm unable to talk, to walk, to hear, and I feel as if things are crawling all over me, starting from my feet, and disappearing in my head."

The first girls to be affected by the illness fainted in January.

Teachers say only girls under 16 were affected, in the mixed school of more than 800 pupils.

At first, four girls were said to be fainting on a daily basis, they said, but there was a dramatic increase when 18 were taken ill on one day.

It is believed that at that school, there are some beliefs that relate to witchcraft
Dr Ezekiel Mpuya
Some 27 girls are said to have been affected in total, and some of them have also fainted at home.

The BBC's Vicky Ntetema, who has visited the school, says the illness is the talk of the town.

The faintings apparently occur only in the afternoon.

Our correspondent says some people have linked this to the girls hearing the imam's call to Muslim afternoon prayers at 1pm.

Some parents have accused teachers of putting spells on the girls.

"These are hurtful remarks against teachers, who depend on their students to earn a living," says headmistress Christobela Halifani.

Cause unclear

Doctors say there is no logical explanation for their fainting.

Dr Ezekiel Mpuya, the medical officer in Iringa, says medical examinations had found "no physical abnormality or organic damage" in the girls.

"We realised they were suffering from neurosis, which happens in adolescent-aged students at times," he said.

"It is believed that at that school, there are some beliefs that relate to witchcraft.

"I think that is what gives the students the stress to develop the outbreak."




SEE ALSO:
Tanzania arrests 'witch killers'
23 Oct 03  |  Africa


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