Epilepsy, which is probably the oldest recorded medical illness, has evoked varied reactions ranging from mystery to fear. It has even been seen as messages from the supernatural. However, people with epilepsy and their families have suffered ostracism by society and deprived of treatment, leading to frequent injuries and, sometimes, death. It is estimated that there are 35 million people with epilepsy in developing countries, most of them in the South-East Asia Region.
Advances in medical sciences have enhanced the understanding of epilepsy as a medical illness. We now know why it occurs, in some cases what causes it, how to treat it and how best to care for the patient.
Unfortunately, despite the availability of effective and inexpensive medicines and treatment regimens, many patients in the Region are not getting the full benefit of appropriate treatment.
The World Health Organization in partnership with the International League against Epilepsy, and the International Bureau for Epilepsy, has launched a worldwide programme, Out of the Shadows, to create awareness, remove myths and misconceptions and make available appropriate care and treatment to people with epilepsy world-wide. The South-East Asia Regional Office of the World Health Organization is committed to this partnership. Our objective is to support Countries in the Region to reach even remote and rural areas and marginalized populations, to help people with epilepsy lead normal lives.
As we take courage from the fact that 70 to 80% of people with epilepsy can lead normal lives if properly treated, it is time to introspect as to why 80 to 90% of people with epilepsy are not being treated at all. We must find the answers and take appropriate action now. It is only then that people with epilepsy can emerge from the shadows.
This document prepared by a panel of experts from the Region, provides valuable information for the layman and policy-makers regarding the multifaceted aspects of epilepsy and how to cope with the challenges posed by this mystified and misunderstood illness.
Dr Vijay Chandra
Regional Adviser Health & Behaviour
South-Asia Regional Office
World Health Organization