Three in four people with epilepsy in low-income countries may die early: WHO

Appropriate use of cheap and effective antiseizure medicines can make up to 70 per cent of people with epilepsy seizure free

By DTE Staff
Published: Friday 21 June 2019

More than 75 per cent of people with epilepsy in low-income countries are at risk of premature death, due to lack of access to antiseizure medicines, according to the first global report on epilepsy by the World health Organization (WHO).

About 80 per cent of people with epilepsy live in low- and middle-income countries. Appropriate use of antiseizure medicines that are cheap and effective can make up to 70 per cent of people with epilepsy seizure free, showed the Epilepsy, a public health imperative report.

The report was released on June 20, 2019 by WHO and two non-governmental organisations for epilepsy — the International League Against Epilepsy and the International Bureau for Epilepsy.

“The treatment gap for epilepsy is unacceptably high, when we know that 70 per cent of people with the condition can be seizure-free when they have access to medicines that can cost a little as $5 per year and can be delivered through primary health systems,” said Tarun Dua, from WHO’s department of mental health and substance abuse.

Besides those in the low-income countries, the risk of premature death in people with epilepsy is up to three times higher than for the general population. 

The death risk is further spiked by the presence of additional health conditions such as:

  • Clinical depression (23 per cent),
  • Anxiety (20 per cent), and
  • Development and learning difficulties in children with epilepsy (30-40 per cent)

Apart from the burden of the disease, people living with epilepsy also face social consequences, including stigma, discrimination and human rights violations.

“The stigma associated with epilepsy is one of the main factors preventing people from seeking treatment,” said Martin Brodie, President of the International Bureau for Epilepsy.

“Many children with epilepsy do not go to school and adults are denied work, the right to drive and even to get married. These human rights violations experienced by people with epilepsy need to come to an end,” Brodie added.

The report calls for sustained and coordinated action to prioritise epilepsy as a public health imperative. It suggests the need for public information campaigns in schools, workplaces to help reduce stigma and introduction of laws to prevent discrimination and violations of human rights among the group.

In addition, uninterrupted supply of access to antiseizure medicines, training of non-specialist health providers working in primary health-care centres can help reduce the epilepsy treatment gap. 

Epilepsy is one of the most common neurological diseases, affecting nearly 50 million people of all ages around the world

The disease is characterised by abnormal electrical activity causing seizures or unusual behaviour, sensations and sometimes loss of awareness.

Measures that can all help reduce epilepsy rates include:

  • Increasing screening for pregnancy complications,
  • Immunisation against pneumonia and meningitis,
  • Malaria control programmes in endemic areas,
  • Initiatives to reduce road traffic injuries, violence and falls and health, and
  • Community interventions to prevent high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and tobacco

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