Obstacles to Epilepsy Treatment in Sub-Saharan Africa

 

Global NeuroCare pic

Global NeuroCare
Image: globalneurocare.org

A neurologist in private practice, Dr. James C. Johnston is also a partner with Global Neurology Consultants. In addition, Dr. James C. Johnston is the founder and director of Global NeuroCare, an international nonprofit organization dedicated to improving neurological services worldwide. Global NeuroCare focuses on sub-Saharan Africa.

As a region, sub-Saharan Africa faces a number of obstacles preventing treatment of neurological disorders such as epilepsy. Cultural beliefs play a major role in epilepsy treatment, with family members often hiding the condition, believing that seizures are caused by supernatural forces. People with epilepsy are generally shunned by society, and children may be prohibited from attending school. This phenomenon is not unique to the developing world, as people with epilepsy in developed nations may face various forms of discrimination.

Access to specialist neurology care also presents a major challenge in sub-Saharan Africa. According to a 2009 study published in the journal Seizure, the average round-trip transit time to rural epilepsy clinics in Ethiopia was more than 10 hours, and these are clinics without neurologists, imaging facilities or EEG equipment.

Because most antiepileptic medications are prohibitively expensive or simply unavailable, physicians typically only have access to the anti-epileptic drug phenobarbital. Not only does phenobarbital have numerous adverse side effects, it also limits neurologists in terms of treatment options. As such, it is not surprising that the International League Against Epilepsy cited consistent access to medication as the most important obstacle to bridging the treatment gap in sub-Saharan Africa.

Under the direction of Dr. James C. Johnston, Global NeuroCare works closely with the Addis Ababa University Department of Neurology in an effort to increase the number of locally trained neurologists, advance patient care and overcome some of the obstacles impeding neurological services.

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