Global Press Institute: In Cameroon, many believe that epilepsy is contagious and caused by witches. As a result, people who have epilepsy try to keep it hidden, depriving them from treatment and other basic services, like education. Since the government declared epilepsy a public health issue a decade ago, the Ministry of Health and local organizations have been working to improve diagnosis and treatment. But the largest task remains sensitizing the community to accept people with epilepsy.
BAFUT, CAMEROON – Mbolifor Stephanie, 18, dropped out of primary school in grade seven when she found out she had epilepsy. She says it all began when she had a seizure one day while she was getting ready for school. She says it became hard to go to school because her teachers and classmates were too frightened to help her when she had seizures, thanks to myths that epilepsy is contagious and caused by witches’ curses.
“I dropped out of school and started learning a trade to become a hairdresser,” she says. “But even at work, I was always getting sick and having seizures.”
She says her seizure patterns have changed throughout the years. “I used to have seizures weekly, but now I get seizures after a month,” she says. “And when I get seizures, it could occur like three times in a day.”
She says the unpredictability of her seizures and the frequency with which they can occur make it difficult for her to hold a job and even to perform routine chores at home. “I think it’s just best for me to stay at home,” she says. “I do little or no work at home. I don’t cook because I can’t go near the fire.”
Stephanie’s mother, Lum Theresa, says that when Stephanie has seizures at home, the family stays up all night assisting her. Theresa says they put sticks in her mouth to keep her from biting and wounding her tongue. “It could be very frightful to watch,” Theresa says. “We are all depressed when it does. If one gets a seizure even in church, people walk away because they are afraid that it is contagious and also that if someone who has epilepsy [fits] around them, they will contract the disease.”
Theresa says that Stephanie, a twin and the youngest of her five children, was much slower than her siblings growing up. But she says her family never imagined it was because of a health condition until Stephanie started having frequent seizures and a medical doctor diagnosed her with epilepsy. Theresa says the doctor prescribed her phenobarbital, a medicine that controls seizures, which Stephanie says has been effective. “Right now, besides [to pick up] the tablets, I don’t go to the hospital,” Stephanie says.
But Stephanie can’t always get the medication she needs because her family can’t afford it. Her mother, a farmer, uses her produce to feed her family and sells the surplus in the village market. So Stephanie also regularly visits a traditional healer, who Theresa says will get rid of the spell that they attribute her epilepsy to….
Doctors here say that diagnosing and treating epilepsy is not difficult, even with the limited resources available in Cameroon, but the stigma attached to epilepsy prevents many people from receiving the care they need. The government has identified epilepsy as an official public health issue and has been promoting research and expanding care. Meanwhile, nongovernmental organizations are spreading information to educate people about epilepsy. Still, many people think it’s a spiritual illness and seek cures from traditional healers, who critics say encourage harmful practices.
Dr. Samuel Angwafor, a medical doctor, says the prevalence of epilepsy in Cameroon is not known because the stigma surrounding epilepsy prevents people from seeking care. But Angwafor says that some studies have identified prevalence rates of up to 10 percent, which are among the highest in the world, in areas of the Mbam Valley, located in the Central region, and the Littoral region. Moreover, many areas with suspected high prevalence rates, such as Batibo and Ngie in the Northwest region, have not been studied yet.
The government assigned Angwafor to the Batibo health district to work with teams to improve care for epilepsy patients and to network with teams in other areas.
He says qualified health workers with knowledge of epilepsy can diagnose it as long as patients provide their medical history and undergo a physical examination. Health personnel can also use neurophysiological and neuroimaging studies to specify the diagnosis and guide treatment. These tools aren’t available in many district and regional hospitals, but Angwafor says they aren’t essential.
“One does not need to be a neurologist or even a physician to diagnose and treat epilepsy, especially in resource-limited settings like ours,” Angwafor says. “The current consensus is for the training of nonphysicians in the management of epilepsy, as there are few physicians and neurologist[s] in the country.”
Although there is no known cure for epilepsy, Angwafor says that up to 70 percent of people with epilepsy can control their seizures with phenobarbital, a cheap and available drug that can cost as little as 3,000 Central African francs, $6.45 USD, for a year’s worth of treatment…. Continue reading via Global Press: http://www.globalpressinstitute.org/global-news/africa/cameroon/epilepsy-myths-promote-stigma-prevent-care-cameroon#ixzz1XBxT5qFN