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Stigma surrounding epilepsy patients

GRACE Chibale (right) with Kitwe district mental health officer Chansa Chiyenge at the commemoration of World Epilepsy Day.

MELODY MUPETA, Kitwe
EPILEPSY patients in communities are usually stigmatised because of the myths surrounding the ailment.

The patients usually face stigma at work places, schools and even in communities, where people shun socialising with them for fear of contracting the disease.
Epilepsy is a neurological disorder, which results in patients having sudden convulsions or loss of consciousness.
The convulsions are a result of a sudden flow of electric activities in the brain, which results in the patient being unresponsive to instruction.
However, there are so many myths surrounding the disease, which has resulted in patients being stigmatised.
Some people in communities believe that epilepsy is an airborne disease, which can be transmitted by breathing the same air with a person who is having convulsions.
Most employers also shun employing people that are epileptic because they perceive them to be unproductive.
This usually affect the social well-being of the patients, who usually do not enjoy the freedom of association.
Grace Chibale, 39, of Buchi Township in Kitwe feels there is need to sensitise people in communities on the disease to reduce stigma.
Ms Chibale said she only discovered that she had the ailment in 2012, after she was admitted for a minor illness.
Ms Chibale, who has lived with the ailment for five years now recalls how her husband abandoned her for fear that he could contract the disease when she started having convulsions.
“I reached a point in my life were I thought of giving up because the only man that was supposed to stand by my side left me when I needed him the most. My husband thought he could get the disease through physical contact,” she said.
Ms Chibale said when her husband left her, she almost gave up on life such that she stopped adhering to the doctor’s prescription on how she was supposed to take her drugs.
She said her failure to follow the prescription caused her to be hospitalised for more than a month but that the time she spent in hospital made her realise how serious her condition was and the need to accept it.
Ms Chibale says since 2012, she has never been hospitalised for her ailment or experienced any seizures because she strictly follows her medication.
Epilepsy patients take drugs such as phenobarbitone, folic acid and other pain killers on a daily basis to prevent convulsions.
Ms Chibale advised epileptic people not to feel shy about their ailment but to come out in the open and seek medical treatment for them to live a healthy life.
James Chanda, 25, another epileptic person narrated how challenging his life has been because of the stigma surrounding the ailment.
“There is this myth about epilepsy that when you breathe the same air with the same person who is epileptic, then you can contract the disease. Such myths result in stigma,” he said.
Mr Chanda said people in communities usually shun helping epileptic patients when they experience convulsions for fear of contracting the disease, which they believe is airborne.
He said there is need to raise public awareness on the disease to help curb stigma.
Mr Chanda said people with epilepsy are also stigmatized when it comes to accessing job opportunities because most employers shun recruiting them for fear that they would be having convulsions every time.
He said epileptic patients normally have seizures once they stop taking their medication.
Mr Chanda said apart from stigma, epileptic patients also face challenges when it comes to accessing drugs in health institutions, which is normally in short supply.
He said drugs like phenobartitone fetch at a high price in drug stores, with K60 tablets costing K80.
Mr Chanda said the drug is important because it protects patients from having convulsions.
“We need to take these drugs on a daily basis and sometimes they are not available in clinics. Not everyone can afford to buy the drugs from the pharmacies because they are too expensive,” Mr Chanda said.
He appealed to the Government to consider allocating more funds towards the purchase of epileptic drugs in Government clinics and hospitals to make them easily accessible to the patients.
But Copperbelt medical officer Consity Mwale says there are several drugs that can be used to treat epilepsy.
He said the Ministry of health ensures that its pharmacies in health institutions are stocked with other substitute drugs, which can prevent convulsions whenever phenobarbitone is out of stock.
And Kitwe district mental health officer Chansa Chiyenge said the brain is an important organ in the body and that any injury to it often results in one having convulsions.
Mr Chiyenge said people that often abuse drugs and alcohol are prone to having the disease.
He also said the disease is manageable if one adheres to the prescriptions recommended by the doctor.
And KitweTeaching Hospital (KTH) senior medical superintendent Joseph Musowoya said the health institution records 1,837 new cases of epilepsy annually.
“These statistics clearly shows that a lot of people are grappling with the ailment,” he said.
He said there is need to raise public awareness on the disease for more people to come out in the open and seek treatment.

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