The Epilepsy Foundation Ghana (EFGH) has called attention to the need to increase public awareness of epilepsy to help demystify the condition as untreatable and demonic.
It said the condition, which was often locally misconstrued to be an attack by demons, was treatable and a purely medical condition and encouraged people living with it to seek medical care.
Speaking at a media engagement and public forum to mark the 2020 International Epilepsy Day, a founder member of the EFGH, Mr Victor Nana Odei Ofei, said although the condition was treatable, many people were not seeking treatment because of the fear of being stigmatised.
Another reason for not seeking treatment, he said, was the perception that epilepsy was a demonic attack and so sufferers, instead, resorted to spiritual interventions that often compounded the situation.
According to the Ghana Health Service (GHS), about 300,000 people in the country were living with the condition, which translates to one per cent of the 30 million Ghanaian population, and that 85 per cent of affected people were not on treatment.
World Epilepsy Day is marked on the second Monday in February every year to raise awareness of the condition and sensitise persons with the condition to seek medical care.
The day is a joint initiative of the International Bureau for Epilepsy (IBE) and the International League Against Epilepsy (ILAE).
This year the day was marked on the theme: “Friendship and inclusion” and had the objective of soliciting family and community support for people living with the condition.
The commemoration also helped to highlight the problems people with epilepsy and their families and carers faced.
An epileptologist and neurologist at the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital, Dr Patrick Adjei, called on people living with epilepsy to seek medical care because the disease was treatable.
He said contrary to what people believed, epilepsy was absolutely a disease of the brain, was not contagious in any way, neither was it a mental or spiritual illness.
He said people living with the condition could live normal lives with the right medication, while majority could be fully treated.
Dr Adjei, who is also the Head of Medicine and Therapeutics at the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital, said everyone was vulnerable to the condition, which is caused by a disorder when a nerve cell in the brain is disturbed, a genetic disorder or an acquired brain injury such as trauma and stroke.
In a layman’s language, he defined epileptic seizures as a compromise in the communication system among the nerves in the brain and likened it to a break in an electrical circuit.
He said it was medically defined as a neurological disorder marked by sudden recurrent episodes of sensory disturbance, loss of consciousness, or convulsions associated with abnormal electrical activity in the brain.
Among other things, he said, the outward effects of the condition varied from uncontrolled shaking movements involving major parts of the body, with loss of consciousness known as tonic-clonic seizure, to shaking movements involving only a part of the body, with variable levels of consciousness, known as focal seizure.
“A seizure that lasts for more than three minutes is a medical emergency,” he said.
He said like any other health condition, epilepsy could be treated fully when detected early.
Dr Adjei said epileptic attacks could last not more than three minutes and warned that any attempt to stop it or interrupt the violent movement of the patient could be more injurious to the affected person.
“During a convulsive seizure, you should never hold the person down or force to put anything in his or her mouth, since that could rather cause more harm to the patient,” he said.
He advised that affected persons should be helped to lie down gently, while loosening all tight clothing, such as ties and belts.
“We should also take away anything that could hurt the affected person, such as sharp and hard objects. We should get something soft to place under the head or feet to avoid the sufferer hitting his or her head on the ground in the process,” he said.