1 in 100 in SA diagnosed with epilepsy

Epilepsy South Africa’s Western Cape social development manager, Karen Robinson, left, with social worker Zandile Mantile.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 50 million people around the globe suffer from epilepsy and in South Africa, one in every 100 people are diagnosed with the neurological disorder.

The 50 million Steps for Epilepsy Campaign, launched by the International Bureau for Epilepsy, runs during the annual National Epilepsy Week, from Monday February 14, to Sunday February 20. International Epilepsy Day was on Tuesday February 15. During the campaign, companies, families and friends raise money for people living with epilepsy.

During the week, Epilepsy South Africa’s Western Cape branch – a non-profit organisation based in Lansdowne, hosts a week of public-awareness programmes.

The 50 Million Steps Campaign celebrates the 50 million people around the world diagnosed with epilepsy, says social development manager of Epilepsy SA Karen Robinson.

Epilepsy is neither a mental illness nor a psychiatric disorder. It is not contagious or infectious. It is a physical condition characterised by unusual electricity in the brain and is a symptom of a neurological condition that is evident through seizures.

The causes of some two thirds of epilepsy conditions are unknown – this is called idiopathic epilepsy, Ms Robinson says.

The rest of the cases, symptomatic epilepsy, can have various causes, including head injury, a birth injury, alcohol or drug abuse, degeneration, and metabolic or biochemical disturbances or imbalances.

Any person of any age can develop epilepsy, but most patients in South Africa are seniors and young children, says Ms Robinson.

Lawyer Michael Bagraim, from Bagraim Attorneys, says people who disclose their disabilities when applying for jobs can face a hidden discrimination, and those with epilepsy, whose disability is not immediately apparent, find that many employers are afraid to hire them. This is a fear born from ignorance, he says, and it is important for employers to educate themselves and start grasping the nature of disabilities and the fact that the disability does not in any way disqualify the majority of the disabled from the workplace.

“Promotion within the workplace is often a problem for those who have disabilities. They are competing against people who are able bodied and invariably, once again, those people are chosen above the disabled.

“For discrimination before being appointed and on promotion, employees have the right to go to the CCMA (Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration) or the Labour Court. Furthermore, people with disabilities have all the rights as outlined in the employment equity legislation,” he said.

Epilepsy SA social worker Zandile Mantile says it is important to busy myths surrounding epilepsy, including notions that people with epilepsy cannot excel in physical or intellectual work and that they should be treated differently, have epilepsy because someone did something wrong, are bewitched, are contagious, and can predict the future and have magical powers.

There are several things you can do, says Ms Mantile, to help someone having a seizure:

• Remain calm and be reassuring.

• Time how long the seizure lasts.

• Cushion the person’s head to prevent injury but do not restrict movement or place anything in the person’s mouth.

• Remove any dangerous objects, loosen any tight clothing and remove spectacles if possible.

• Help breathing by placing the person on his or her side in the first aid recovery position and stay with the person until he or she is fully recovered.

• Call an ambulance if the seizure lasts longer than 6 minutes.

• After the seizure, talk to the person about what happened but know that he or she might not be aware they had a seizure.

• Once fully recovered, tell them what happened and allow him or her to record this in a seizure diary which will help the ambulance personnel.

To raise funds or find out more click on www.50millionsteps.org or call Epilepsy SA Western Cape branch on 0860 374 57 or visit www.epilepsy.org.za

Michael Bagraim at Bagraim Attorneys, says people who disclose their disabilities when applying for jobs can face a hidden discrimination, and those with epilepsy, whose disability is not immediately apparent, find that many employers are afraid to hire them.