News / Africa

Epilepsy Burdens Developing Countries

Developing countries bear most of the world's epilepsy burden. (WHO)
Developing countries bear most of the world's epilepsy burden. (WHO)

Multimedia

Audio
Joe DeCapua
Developing countries are seeing rising rates of noncommunicable diseases such as diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease. But researchers say those countries already have a disproportionate number of epilepsy cases compared to richer nations.


Researchers say despite epilepsy being “one of the most cost-effective disorders to treat,” developing nations carry a “heavy burden.” Twice as many people with epilepsy live in low- and middle-income countries.

The findings appear in The Lancet medical journal. The lead author, Oxford University Psychiatry Professor Charles Newton, spends much of his time in Kenya and Tanzania in the Wellcome Trust programs.

“Epilepsy is a condition in which there is an excessive neuronal or electrical discharge within the brain causing the person to develop abnormal movements or impaired consciousness or even in some cases abnormal sensations,” he said.

Epilepsy is an umbrella term for a condition that has many causes and can happen at any age.

“It can be inherited. It can have other genetic causes. It can be cause by infections, birth trauma, head injury and even such things as stroke and brain tumors,” he said.

Newton said that in Africa birth trauma often results from poor obstetrical care. And brain infections can result from such diseases as bacterial meningitis and malaria, among others. The disease also takes many forms.

“You can have people staring blankly into space very frequently during the day," he said. "People having funny sensations, such as hallucinations, or people who fall down completely unconscious, go stiff, and then start convulsing, shaking on the ground, often wetting themselves.”

Those with epilepsy can also have a much higher mortality rate. For example, a person having a seizure may become unconscious and be more vulnerable to falling, fires or work accidents.

Epilepsy is an age-old health problem. The Epilepsy Therapy Project says the Greek physician Hippocrates wrote the first book about it in 400 B.C. He attempted to dispel myths, describing it as a brain disorder. Despite that early insight, those with epilepsy have faced stigma and discrimination. The affliction, at times, has been described as being the result of witchcraft, not only in the past, but the present.

Newtown said stigma and discrimination give people with epilepsy less of a chance of getting an education, a job or even getting married. Their families are also often shunned. He said it doesn’t have to be that way.

“Epilepsy is controllable with relatively inexpensive drugs. So [for] between five and ten U.S. dollars a year one could control seizures or reduce the seizures in about 70 percent of the people with epilepsy,” he said.

The most common drug used to treat epilepsy in Africa in phenobarbital. It does have side effects, though, such as hyperactivity and skin rashes in children and drowsiness in adults. Newer drugs have been developed in recent years.

“The problem is that they’re all very expensive and they’re not really accessible to people living in poor areas. So I think that our emphasis in poor areas is trying to get access to the drugs which are well established and that are relatively inexpensive, and that we know what their side effects are,” he said.

But Newton and his colleagues said, besides making medicine more available, more should be done to educate and prevent epilepsy.

“The first thing,” he said, “is to sensitize communities in order to recognize that people who have epilepsy often don’t know that they have epilepsy - and if they do know that they have epilepsy, don’t know that it can actually be controlled by medical treatment.”

Newton said that if obstetric care were improved, if brain infections could be avoided through better sanitation and other efforts, if greater protection was used to avoid head trauma, up to 50 percent of epilepsy cases in parts of Africa could be prevented. He called on the United Nations to include epilepsy on its list of non-communicable diseases that demand more attention. 

The World Health Organization reports that epilepsy "is the most common serious brain disorder worldwide with no age, racial, social class, national nor geographic boundaries." The WHO says, "There are over  50 million sufferers in the world today, 85 percent of whom live in developing countries." There are nearly two and a half million new cases each year.

You May Like

Photogallery South Africa Bans Travelers From Ebola-stricken Countries

South Africans returning from affected West African countries will be thoroughly screened, required to fill out medical questionnaire, health minister says More

Multimedia UN Launches ‘Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years’ in Iraq

Move aims to help thousands of Iraqi religious minorities who fled their homes as Kurdish, Iraqi government forces battle Sunni insurgents More

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

IT specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about disease More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbasi
X
Scott Stearns
August 21, 2014 9:20 PM
The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ferguson Calls for Justice as Anger, Violence Grips Community

Violence, anger and frustration continue to grip the small St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. Protests broke out after a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager on August 9. The case has sparked outrage around the nation and prompted the White House to send U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to the small community of just over 20,000 people. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas has more from Ferguson.
Video

Video Beheading Of US Journalist Breeds Outrage

U.S. and British authorities have launched an investigation into an Islamic State video showing the beheading of kidnapped American journalist James Foley by a militant with a British accent. The extremist group, which posted the video on the Internet Tuesday, said the murder was revenge for U.S. airstrikes on militant positions in Iraq - and has threatened to execute another American journalist it is holding. Henry Ridgwell has more from London.
Video

Video Family Robots - The Next Big Thing?

Robots that can help us with daily chores like cooking and cleaning are a long way off, but automatons that serve as family companions may be much closer. Researchers in the United States, France, Japan and other countries are racing to build robots that can entertain and perform some simpler tasks for us. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.

AppleAndroid