Lack of resources, stigma fail fight against epilepsy

People help a man said to be suffering from epilepsy in Arua City. Many families are grappling with epilepsy in Terego District. PHOTO | FELIX WAROM OKELLO

What you need to know:

  • Epileptic “fits” or “seizures” occur as a result of an occasional, sudden, excessive electrical discharge from cells in the brain. It is like an “electrical short-circuiting” or an “electrical storm” in the brain cells.

At a function held at Bileafe Sub-county headquarters in Terego District, a man (name withheld) approached the gathering with jerky movements.

Ten minutes later, the man fell to the ground. His body stiffened, and his head began to nod rapidly. Quick-thinking bystanders swiftly moved him away from the congested area as his eyes began blinking rapidly.

He was rushed to the Bileafe Health Centre for medical care.  

Those who knew the man said he was in his late 20s and suffered from epilepsy.

The incident brought to light a more widespread problem in Terego. Many families are grappling with epilepsy. Tragically, some individuals have lost their lives to the illness.   

According to the World Health Organisation, epilepsy is a non-communicable disease of the brain. Epileptic “fits” or “seizures” occur as a result of an occasional, sudden, excessive electrical discharge from cells in the brain. It is like an “electrical short-circuiting” or an “electrical storm” in the brain cells.

The causes include brain damage from prenatal or perinatal causes (for example a loss of oxygen or trauma during birth, low birth weight), congenital abnormalities or genetic conditions with associated brain malformations, a severe head injury, stroke that restricts the amount of oxygen to the brain, an infection of the brain such as meningitis and brain tumour.

Ms Gloria Anguyo, 36, a resident of Odupi Sub-county in Terego District, says misconceptions about the disease are discouraging patients from seeking medical care.

Ms Anguyo says when she first learnt that she had epilepsy, she was told that modern medicines were ineffective against the disease. 

“I visited witchdoctors three times where they gave me onions and shoes to sniff for three months. It did not change anything. I am just living on the mercy of God because I am like a social outcast,” she says. 

Ms Anguyo, who sells beans for a living, says she cannot afford to buy medication for the disease, adding that the cheapest drug costs Shs15,000.

She urges government and non-governmental organisations to come to their rescue. 

Health workers speak out

At Nicu Health Centre II in Bileafe Sub-county, Ms Felista Nazziwa, the officer-in-charge, says the facility has more than 15 epilepsy patients.

“Epilepsy comes due to untreated malaria, like a child with severe malaria. Sometimes it is a complication of trauma during delivery, either the child knocks the head during delivery,” she says. 

She adds that the medicines they have at the health centre are not enough to treat the disease.

“When you realise a child has severe fever, they should report to VHTs (village health teams) and early treatment needs to be sought.”

The officer-in-charge of Odupi Health centre III, who is also the senior clinical officer, Ms Asia Abaru, says the public needs sensitisation on the disease, especially when it comes to patients’ adherence to taking medication and addressing misconceptions about it.

“There is no specific funding, but we carry out outreach services, and provide drugs freely for patients offered by the government,” she says. 

Mr Jonathan Ongom, a clinical officer and the officer-in-charge of Tank 29 Health Centre in Imvepi Settlement, says: “We do give medicines for those suffering from epilepsy. Unfortunately, some of them do not honour their appointments monthly. This causes a lot of interruptions in treatment. This is an area where such people need support.”

The health worker says the disease is treatable if medical care is sought quickly and patients consistently take their medication.