Epilepsy does not have a good PR rating in Uganda. Traditionally it is associated with witchcraft, madness and is thought of as being contagious. And unfortunate as it is, it’s not hard to see where these stigmas come from.
Over and over you hear the same stories “she was okay, but then the devil got her and gave her convulsions and now she’s mad”, “he was okay until he went to the village when he was six and there someone was jealous because he was a handsome boy so they witched him and now he’s like this” and so on…
|Christine’s epilepsy went uncontrolled for years unfortunately leaving her with irreversible brain damage. Luckily, her parents now know where to access medication for her and she will be starting the SSF SEN class this term|
It is not uncommon around both village and town to bump into the local “crazy” from time to time. I was saddened to hear that the “crazy” most local to our nursery, is in fact a man who suffers with epilepsy. “You see he used to be okay,” they told me, “but from time to time he falls down and shakes and the convulsions take him. And after some time, his minds went off and now he’s like this. He can’t look after himself and most people are scared to go near him.” It is clear to me, this man is not “crazy” but moreover the victim of preventable brain damage caused by uncontrolled seizures.
On an outreach with Home of Hope Ministries earlier this year, we came across a local government leader who quite calmly and pleasantly told us we were mistaken and of course epilepsy was catching. He remembered fondly, with a big grin, the times when he was a boy when they took the local epileptic, who was isolated in a hut alone, food that they pushed to the door with a long stick for fear of catching the sickness. He thanked us for our “sensitization” and for correcting him on this fact, but I fear this old man’s thoughts and opinions had not really changed.
|Home of Hope Ministries Director, Edith, gives a sensitisation speech during an outreach. (Me in the middle)|
Luckily, Home of Hope Ministries achieved what they set out to do that day, which was to distribute monthly anticonvulsant medication to the epileptic children of the rural communities. Epilepsy medication is free from government hospitals, but how are you to know that? And even if you know, how are you to afford transportation? With initiative like this, replicated by many organisations, many remote villagers are getting the chance to treat their children and, just as importantly, learning about the true nature of epilepsy, that is: it is not contagious; it is not the devil; it is congenital or the result of brain injury or sickness and; it is usually controllable.
|The medical officer with Home of Hope Ministries distributes anticonvulsant medication free of charge in the community|
Hopefully these children will have a chance of a happy and productive future, unlike their “crazy” and isolated adult counterparts.