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Prior to my presentation during the 4th African Epilepsy Congress in Entebbe-Uganda, I had an opportunity to join in a side meeting of Epilepsy practitioners and elders from Africa.
The subject of discussion here was deep and far reaching with more questions than answers. It was about the effects of African traditional healers in Epilepsy care and treatment.
The experience of Epilepsy by traditional healers is profoundly culturally mediated and the meanings attributed to the condition can have a great impact on its social course.
Dr. Edward Kija, a consultant Paediatrician and Lecturer at Muhimbili University in Tanzania, from his research on the subject matter noted that, traditional healers define epilepsy as a disease caused by confusion of brain nerves, and the actual seizure is the action done by the person when sick with epilepsy, a sickness that is always present and active.
Many consider a person with epilepsy to be possessed and the condition is often viewed as punishment for wrongdoings of the family. However, in some cases, a person may be convulsing for a greater good. In these cases the convulsions could be an attempt to remove bad spirits surrounding the family, and by convulsing, the bad spirits are removed. In other cases the convulsions may be a calling from the ancestors for that person to be a traditional healer. Until that person accepts the calling, the convulsions will continue. The definition and the belief about the possible causes are the same for a child and an adult, but the causes most often have a spiritual basis.
Traditional healers can have an important role in Epilepsy care. They can help identify patients in the community and refer them to a hospital. It is important to note that traditional healers have a very strong influence on their local community, and they may play a huge role in reducing the stigma of epilepsy in the community.
It may be best, until conditions in the communities change significantly, that traditional healers be educated in the basics of epilepsy care and that the medical community work in partnership with them.
In a region of the world with limited medical resources this collaboration with the recognized community medical professionals may provide new avenues to providing much needed access to care for people with epilepsy. Perhaps the key to this successful collaboration is the development of a respectful partnership with the traditional healers.
The writer is an ambassador - Epilepsy Awareness