Epilepsy is one of the most widespread neurological disorders in the world, with about 50 million people living with it. More than 75% of people living with the disease are located in less developed countries, where there is difficulty receiving advanced medical treatments. Of that 75%, around 25 million people have epilepsy in Africa, forcing a great burden on people’s daily lives.
Common signs of an epilepsy episode may include seizures, unconsciousness, distress in movements and other psychological illnesses such as anxiety and depression. Premature death is three times more prevalent in epilepsy patients than in those without the disease, the highest rates being in rural areas. Not only is there a significant gap in treatment, but the rise of stigma and discrimination within African communities has prevented people from seeking care for epilepsy in Africa.
Fortunately, health care systems in African regions have begun to take action by incorporating facilities and therapies tailored to treat epilepsy for patients, especially for rural populations. On the other hand, due to embedded cultural and traditional values in African societies, there are still lingering struggles to understand what epilepsy is, its diagnosis and cures.
Barriers to Health Care
Around 80% of people with epilepsy in Africa are not able to obtain medicines to treat and manage seizure episodes. Rural communities in African countries are often confronted with a lack of awareness and comprehension when it comes to diagnostic treatments for epilepsy, which can often lead to misdiagnosis. Additionally, because health care institutions are uncommon in low-income areas, people have to travel a long way in hopes of accessing medical attention. Due to the unstable infrastructure in the health care systems, finding professionals like epileptologists and neurologists specializing in epilepsy care is rare.
Receiving treatment is also a major financial burden for many Africans, as the cost of health insurance ranges from $10 up to $50 per month. Medication and MRI scans which serve for assessing and treating epilepsy patients can cost between $50 to $1000.
Fighting Stigma and Discrimination
People with epilepsy living in poverty are usually the ones that receive the most backlash and face discrimination due to societal myths about the condition. Many people have perceived epilepsy as a contagious disease leading to them avoiding assisting someone during an epileptic episode. Along with this, discrimination has led to difficulty finding jobs and isolation from the rest of the community.
Education and legislation play a vital role in diminishing the stigma toward people with epilepsy. This is important because it can offer factual proof that calls for better assistance and treatment for epilepsy. Moreover, those who have seizure episodes in the work environment often face employment termination and are not able to continue work because of the stigmatization. Only a small portion of African countries have implemented legislation to safeguard individuals with epilepsy, but these protections have not always been in full enforcement.
Rehabilitation centers and health programs
On a positive note, there have been ongoing developments in the health sector that help to dismantle stigma and enable treatment access for people in need. Many African regions have been incorporating “Mobile Health Clinics (MHCs)” to help people in remote communities where there are no health institutions. This innovation paves the way for the right specialists and health care providers, who work with different therapies, to improve the livelihood of people living with epilepsy. Speech, physical and cognitive therapies are crucial to managing epilepsy in patients to relieve psychological stressors.
Other health programs have implemented reliable tests to distinguish and improve particular diagnoses of the disorder. The focal point for these programs is to work with communities in more impoverished areas while empowering women, the elderly and children. Additionally, this has offered a safe and unprejudiced environment for people with epilepsy, since they can speak through their condition without the feeling of judgment and dehumanization.
Efforts toward advancing and prioritizing care for epilepsy in Africa have been on the rise, with a focus on offering rehabilitation and therapy services. Research organizations, like CURE Epilepsy, have been working with local organizations in various countries to continue with the efforts and support to better the livelihood of many African individuals living with epilepsy.
– Alessandra Amati