The risk of premature death in people with epilepsy is up to three times higher than in the general population, with these sudden, unexpected deaths increasing in SA by more than 100% since 2004.
Epilepsy, reports TimesLIVE, affects one in every 100 people in this country, and more than 75% of people have their first seizure before the age of 20.
The treatment gap, in other words, the percentage of people with epilepsy whose seizures are not being appropriately treated, is estimated at 75% in low-income countries and is substantially higher in rural than urban areas.
And yet, “Up to 80% of people with epilepsy can control their seizures with medication,” said president of the Neurological Association of SA (Nasa) Dr Patty Francis.
Speaking on the eve of World Brain Day on 22 July, Francis said: “In South Africa, the treatment gap is exasperated by severe staff and resource shortages. The ratio of neurologists to the population in SA is one per 500,000 – compared with 35 per 500,000 population in high-income countries – limited access to anti-seizure medicines, lack of knowledge, misperceptions and stigma.”
Worldwide, some 50m people suffer from epilepsy, of whom 70% to 80% are in low- and middle-income countries where inadequate access to health facilities and potentially preventable causes of epilepsy are lacking.
It is a highly treatable condition and more than 70% of people with epilepsy could live seizure-free if they had access to appropriate anti-seizure treatment, “the most cost-effective of which are included in the World Health Organisation model list of essential medicines”, said Francis.
She said health systems have not yet adequately responded to the burden of neurological disorders.
“While about 70% of people with neurological disorders live in low-income countries, this need is poorly recognised, with only 28% of low-income countries having a dedicated policy for neurological disorders.”
In 66% of cases, the underlying cause of epilepsy is unknown. In the remaining cases, the underlying cause can include head injury (at any age), birth injuries such as a lack of oxygen, alcohol and drug abuse, neuro-degeneration, metabolic or biochemical disturbances, strokes, infections and brain tumours.
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