The WHO (Geneva, Switzerland) has collaborated with the International League Against Epilepsy (TX, USA) and the International Bureau for Epilepsy (Dublin, Ireland) to publish a report on the global burden of epilepsy and what can be done to improve the lives of those living with the neurological disease.
The majority of people with epilepsy live in low- and mid-income countries in which access to treatment is limited.
“The treatment gap for epilepsy is unacceptably high, when we know that 70% of people with the condition can be seizure-free when they have access to medicines that can cost as little as US$5 per year and can be delivered through primary health systems,” explained Tarun Dua (WHO Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse).
The report states that lack of access to necessary healthcare facilities is one of the reasons contributing to the high rate of premature death in individuals with epilepsy. Indeed, people with epilepsy are three-times more likely to die prematurely than the rest of the population.
In addition, approximately 25% of epilepsy cases are preventable. If prevention programs involving strategies such as screening during pregnancy and vaccination against infections of the CNS are implemented by healthcare providers, as recommended by the report, this could help to reduce the global burden of epilepsy.
There is also a call to increase research efforts to further develop epilepsy prevention strategies.
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The report addresses the issue of discrimination against people with epilepsy, a factor which can contribute to poor physical and mental health in these individuals. “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,” commented Martin Brodie (International Bureau for Epilepsy).
The WHO propose that a culturally appropriate, multipronged strategy is required to improve awareness and education of epilepsy worldwide.
There have already been several successful WHO-led programs to improve epilepsy diagnosis and treatment in countries such as Ghana, Mozambique and Myanmar. “We know how to reduce the epilepsy treatment gap. Now action to introduce the measures needed to make a difference needs to be accelerated,” stated Samuel Wiebe (International League Against Epilepsy).
The report concludes with a global call for action, asking policy makers, healthcare providers and non-governmental organizations to prioritize the treatment of epilepsy.
“Ensuring uninterrupted supply of access to antiseizure medicines is one of the highest priorities, as is training of non-specialist health providers working in primary healthcare centers,” concluded Wiebe.
Sources: www.who.int/news-room/detail/20-06-2019-who-highlights-scarcity-of-treatment-for-epilepsy-in-low-income-countries; World Health Organization. Epilepsy: a public health imperative (2019).