Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Preliminary findings of Uganda’s first ever study to establish the prevalence of epilepsy, a neurological disorder marked by sudden recurrent episodes of unconsciousness or convulsions but associated with a lot of myths shows that 2 percent of Ugandans suffer from the condition.
Dr Angelina Kakooza, a researcher and pediatric neurologist based at Makerere University told URN on Monday as the International Day of Epilepsy was marked that while a number of people live with the condition, the majority are unaware and tend not to seek proper healthcare for it.
In the survey in which they have screened more than 1000 people across the country, Kakooza says they found seven in ten people don’t know that they actually have the condition since some of the people don’t get seizures which is the most common symptom of the disease but get episodes of being absent from reality.
A final report of the survey will be released later this year after concluding the validation process which also involves a clinical assessment of the participants. Before this happens, Kakooza says they are establishing that people from a family that has had the disease are four times more likely to get it. Some people especially children acquire the brain disorder at birth whereas some become epileptic in old age following head injury or after being infected with tapeworm.
Commenting about the findings, Dr Kenneth Kalani, a psychiatrist said that now that they are establishing that more people are suffering from epilepsy, there’s need to change the attitude among health workers in lower facilities to start handling such cases.
He said for a long time, statistics have been quoting only 1 percent people suffer from the disease and yet low cadre health workers have been handling the condition as a specialized case and therefore always refer them to high level health facilities that have neurologists and psychiatrists. As a result, patients are kept away from timely care.
Now he says it’s clear that the few specialists in the country cannot handle all these cases as already, the picture of those seeking care is grim showing that 80 percent don’t visit any health facility even as they present with dangerous symptoms such as seizures.
Sarah Nekesa of the Epilepsy Support Association Uganda (ESAU), that helps people living with the disease says majority of the sufferers instead seek services of traditional healers and witches because of the limited information surrounding the condition.
Nekesa tells URN that they started a programme aimed at helping people access treatment in which they reached out to witch doctors to be partners but this was only sustained for a short time.
However, northern Uganda records the highest prevalence of the disease, followed by Eastern Uganda.