Recently, on the 8th of February, International Epilepsy day was celebrated in more than 130 countries to raise awareness about the disease. Epilepsy is a chronic, non-communicable neurological disease, affecting approximately 50 million people worldwide, with 80% of them residing in low- and low-and-middle income countries. Many people with epilepsy in developing parts of the world have limited access to treatment, despite the availability of effective anti-epileptic medications.
A recent WHO report presents evidence suggesting that nearly 70% of people with epilepsy can attain a good quality of life, free of seizures and effective, low-cost medications, while a quarter of epilepsy cases can be prevented.
Clinically, epilepsy can be characterized by the repeated occurrence of seizures. Seizures can be defined as a“ sudden alteration of behavior due to a temporary change in the electrical functioning of the brain”. This can lead to a brief alteration in the person’s movement, sensations or consciousness.
Due to the multiple impacts epilepsy can have on the daily functioning of people living with epilepsy, it must be considered as a serious problem for primary healthcare, and the lack of good care as a major obstacle towards attaining Universal Health Coverage (UHC). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that more than 66% of adults living with epilepsy also have 4 or more other chronic conditions, with 32% of them unable to work; 42% of children with epilepsy live in poverty or close-to-poverty levels. Apart from dealing with the disease, people with epilepsy have often been, and continue to be subjected to stigmatisation and discrimination.
Another major challenge which reinforces the need for epilepsy to be considered as a public health priority is the enormous gap in terms of access to treatment ranging from an average of less than 10% in high income/ resource settings to almost 100% lacking access in remote parts of low-income settings. Experts suggest certain ways forward such as:
Mortality among persons with (untreated) epilepsy can be as high as 20%, in addition to having three times the risk of incurring a premature death when compared to the general population – all of which can be prevented. Public health research, professionals and policies, must focus on curbing the plight of epilepsy, both as a disease and as public health challenge. To celebrate this International Epilepsy Day, think about how you can get the conversation started!