“Fight Against Epilepsy initiative” in Ghana: A giver of hope, of bright and promising future

Adam Abukari, 37 years old, a Ghanaian man from Savelugu/Nanton located in the Northern Region of Ghana, did not know that the seizure he was having was epilepsy until the day when doctors diagnosed him as having it. Epilepsy is a condition that affects the brain and causes repeated seizures. “I grew up before I started experiencing the seizures probably at the age of 20. I used to have about seven or five seizure episodes in a month,” he explains.

About 50 million people worldwide suffer from this disease and close to 80% of them are in low and middle income countries. In Ghana, they are over 265 000 and some of them, like Adam Abukari, live in communities where there is lack of awareness and stigma about epilepsy.

People affected by this condition do not know when the next seizure will strike. Indeed, the manifestation, the duration, the seriousness and effect of the seizures on the people affected are unpredictable. Epilepsy raises fear, misunderstanding, social discrimination and stigmatization and, in some cases, has an impact on the chances of getting and keeping jobs and the condition takes its toll on the living condition of families. Despite this, the condition can be treated/controlled and thus access to early treatment is vital.

In low and middle income countries, about three – quarters of affected persons don’t receive the treatment they need. In Ghana, four-fifths of them are not receiving any treatment; that means out of 265 000 persons living with epilepsy in Ghana, 212 000 are not receiving the low cost treatment composed of two medicines, carbamazepine and phenobarbital which control the seizures in 70% of all cases.

In an effort to improve access to treatment for those affected by epilepsy, the Ministry of Health of Ghana, WHO and a range of partners including Sanofi Espoir, the International League Against Epilepsy (ILAE) and the International Bureau for Epilepsy (IBE have embarked on the “Fight against epilepsy programme”). “The initiative, among others, aimed at training non – specialists to provide epilepsy care. I’m delighted that WHO has provided technical support towards this very important initiative,” said Dr Owen Kaluwa, WHO Representative in Ghana. Joseph, a nurse working at RCH Clinic in Savelugu/Nanton, is one of the 700 non-specialist health workers trained by specialists as neurologists, psychiatrists, family health physicians and paediatricians across all the project sites to provide initial support and care to those who suffer from epilepsy. Just like him, there are now many skilled health workers in the district of Savelugu/Nanton who now know how to manage epilepsy cases.

Some of the health workers have also raised public awareness about epilepsy. As a result, the attendance of people with epilepsy cases in all the health facilities of the district has increased. For Joseph, this increase is due to the fact that some health volunteers have been trained to sensitize the communities on epilepsy and to address stigma, which is also one of the goals of the “Fight against epilepsy initiative”. “We have reviewed a total of 203 old cases at the end of 2013. In 2014, we reviewed 515 old cases and then 586 old cases of epilepsy were reviewed in 2015,” says Haruna Ibrahim, a Community Mental Health Officer talking about cases first screened within the “Fight against epilepsy initiative”.  

“The programme has contributed to positively changing people’s health condition through the provision of better health care and services,” noted Dr Kaluwa Owen. “Thank God, with the medicine I am taking now, I can get only one or no seizures in a month. And even the one seizure I now experience monthly is less severe according to my auntie,” says joyful Adam Abukari. His life is no more the same. Adam Abukari goes to his farm and works every day. He can sleep well now, compared to more than four years ago. He can talk with his family and friends. He is happy and active and is considering getting married and having children, something that he could not imagine before the launch of the “Fight against Epilepsy initiative” in Ghana.

That programme has improved the lives of many people. Like Adam they feel that they are now part of the larger society, and this is sufficient to make them happy about themselves.

A giver of hope, of bright and promising future, that’s what the “Fight against Epilepsy initiative” is all about.