Namibia still does not have an epilepsy medical organization despite having a slightly higher rate of epilepsy as the world figure shows that 1 in a 100 people have epilepsy in the country.
The Chairperson of Epilepsy Namibia, Harmiena Riphagen said this high rate of epilepsy is because we have tropical illnesses, neurocysticercocis and a high rate of substance abuse.
She further added that Doctor Hilma Shipanga, a neurologist at Oshakati State Hospital is in the process of registering an International League against Epilepsy (ILAE) for Namibia.
Riphagen added that world-wide epilepsy is handled by two organizations which are the Epileptologists from the German, Swiss and Austrian ILAE chapters. In the first week of November this organizations will visit Namibia to support this action and to assess training and equipment needs.
She further stated that as epilepsy is a chronic neurological condition people living with epilepsy need to adapt to it to be able to live a meaningful life, adding that epilepsy Namibia is a layman’s organization, a full member of the IBE (International Bureau for Epilepsy), that supports people with epilepsy after they have been diagnosed.
“We do awareness, lifestyle management, training and advocacy. Epilepsy Namibia was registered with the Department of Health and Welfare in 2007,” said Riphagen.
She reiterated that a person with epilepsy should not be referred to as an epileptic, adding that people with epilepsy suffer from discrimination and isolation because of malicious old wives tales about demons and all sorts of unfounded statements and believes.
“It is a neurological condition. It is not a medical illness or psychiatric disorder, people with epilepsy are not sick neither are they crazy! It is not contagious or hereditary. Seizures are a symptom of epilepsy and occur when there is a chemical imbalance or structural problem in the brain. There are hundreds of types of epilepsies with each persons’ epilepsy unique,” said Riphagen.
She further expressed that seizures are categorized in three types. The first two types the person does not lose consciousness and may be fully or partially aware of the seizure. The third type of seizure is called a tonic clonic seizure where the person loses consciousness, falls and shakes.
“They are not aware of the seizure and can be confused for a while after the seizure has stopped. Seizures are self-inhibiting which means that they stop by themselves. Please do not put anything in the mouth of a person who has a seizure as you can hurt them, it is a myth that they will swallow their tongues - it is not possible. Seizures normally do not last longer than 60 seconds,’ she said.
What to do?
Riphagen noted that first aid for seizure is to protect the person from injury, especially the head by placing something soft under the head, do not restrain or put anything in the mouth. Time the seizure and when it stops turn the person to the recovery position.
“Stay with the person until fully recovered. Emergency treatment or hospitalization is not necessary unless there is a blood injury or the seizure does not stop after 5 minutes,” she said.
She added that Epilepsy is usually controlled by daily medication and surgery is done in suitable cases to remove the lesion that is causing the seizures. Unfortunately there is no cure yet, but all of us are working hard to find it.
The Ministry of Health’s and Social Services (MoHSS), Petrina Haingura reteirated that Epilepsy is part of their program and they are dealing with the issue, adding that they are working on ways to aid people in dealing with the trauma, how to prevent epilepsy and where to get treatment.
She added that epilepsy is a genetic disease and much still needs to be done to alert people with the symptoms, further expressing that people relate it to a curse while others regard people with epilepsy as cursed.
“This is a scientific disease and people should get rid of the perception that people with it are bewitched. There is medicine made for epilepsy and patients can go to hospital for this treatment. When they get a seizure, they should be layed on their side so that they cannot swallow the saliva that comes with the seizure. These patients need to go for check-ups and get the proper medicine,” said Haingura.