Epilepsy is defined as a type of disorder marked by abnormal electrical discharges in the brain that are manifested by sudden episodes of altered consciousness, involuntary movements, or convulsions. Mainly characterized by the recurrence of seizures, epileptic symptoms can arise in people of all ages.
According to the World Health Organization, more than 50 million people worldwide are diagnosed with epilepsy – 80% of them reside in low- and middle-income countries (LAMICs) like Nigeria. With an estimated 2.4 million people who are newly diagnosed with epilepsy every year, it is regarded as one of the most prevalent neurological disorders.
In Nigeria, epilepsy is commonly misinterpreted as a type of punishment caused by ‘juju’ or bad omens manifested upon someone who has been spiritually attacked. With a lack of public health discourse among Nigerians on the true origins of neurological and psychiatric disorders, several people who are subjected to such conditions are highly stigmatized by their families and communities. Discrimination among epileptic patients thus leads to hesitancy in seeking medical assistance to maintain their symptoms, for their society does not allow for them to easily access resources and moral support.
During Regions’ 2nd Annual Conference on Epilepsy and EEG in Clinical Practice, held on January 18th and 19th 2019 in Enugu, Professor Ikenna Onwukwe of Clinical Neurology and Internal Medicine at the University of Teaching Hospital Enugu said that “despite increasing efforts for the creation of health education and public awareness programs, traditional healers and religious personnel are still involved in the management of epilepsy.” This discrepancy limits patients to seek adequate treatment for the seizures, therefore leading to misdiagnosis and poor guidance under the hands of native doctors who are unknowledgeable of epilepsy as a neurological disorder.
Dr. Chinekwu Anyanwu, Co-Director of Regions Stroke and Neuroscience Hospital and an assistant professor of Neurology and Neuroscience at Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and Research Institute in the U.S.A., also commented on the effects on poor diagnosis and inaccurate beliefs about epilepsy. With the availability of medications to manage epileptic episodes among patients, she spoke about a treatment option that is commonly used in her practice to prevent seizures – VNS Therapy. This form of therapy works to control seizures by using a device that sends mild pulses to the vagus nerve of the neck at regular intervals throughout the day.
Dr. Anyanwu also shared that it “is a new dawn for epileptic patients in Sub-Saharan Africa as Regions Stroke and Neuroscience Hospital has been established to fill the huge gap on epilepsy through proper attention on diagnosis, including the provision of neuro-diagnostic machines for treatment.”