Children with epilepsy: the silent victims

School should be the sort of environment where children are encouraged to achieve their potential, discover their interests and build relationships with their peers. However, young people growing up with epilepsy rarely find this to be true.

Children suffering from epilepsy suffer from lack of awareness surrounding the condition.
Children suffering from epilepsy suffer from lack of awareness surrounding the condition.

The government has waged a strong fight against the stigma and discrimination associated with HIV and Aids, but health conditions such as epilepsy seem to be low on its agenda. Therefore, children suffering from the condition are not given the support they require and schools are ill-equipped to handle their cases.

Monica Zvomuya from Harare’s Kuwadzana suburb has a teenage daughter with epilepsy. She expressed her concern about the misconceptions and negative attitudes surrounding the condition. She said her daughter found it difficult to relate to the other children in school who believe that her condition is contagious.

School dropouts

“My child is usually mocked and called names at school due to her epilepsy; a situation that has resulted in her refusing to go to school which thereby isolates her from the other kids,” said Zvomuya.

Research has shown that approximately two percent of children of school-going age have epilepsy. Individuals with the condition experience their first seizure before the age of 20, according to a report in Breaking down barriers to inclusive education in Zimbabwe, A teacher’s handbook (2011).

The Epilepsy Support Foundation of Zimbabwe estimated that 86 percent of people with epilepsy were not receiving treatment, yet about 80 percent of cases could be controlled with medication. The situation is said to be worse in rural areas where children with epilepsy are dropping out of school due to seizures.

Hard to get help

The location of medical facilities has also made it difficult for parents and guardians to seek medical attention and receive the necessary skills to cope with the condition.

Epilepsy is an abnormal discharge of activity by the nerve cells in the brain that is characterised by recurrent seizures. The cause of epilepsy is usually unidentifiable. It can be due to head injuries, brain tumours or lack of oxygen during birth, among other things. It is not contagious.

Taurai Kadzviti, a counsellor at ESFZ, acknowledged that the long distances children with the condition were forced to travel to school increased the number of dropouts.

“Long distances have had a negative impact on the improvement and management of epilepsy by these children as they are not able to attend school and most importantly, get their treatment. As a result, they are dropping out of school, worsening the burden as they won’t be able to acquire life skills,” Kadzviti said.

Nicholas George, the founder of the Epilepsy Support Foundation, was rejected from a government school at the age of 12 due to epilepsy. Sadly, 22 years down the line, the stigma in schools and most communities still exists.

“These children have been silent victims, often neglected and sidelined as the stigma and negative attitude associated with the condition dominates,” said Victor Mugwagwa, the director of the ESFZ.

Rejected from school

It has been observed that children with epilepsy are rejected from schools as the authorities have not been trained to handle such cases. This has negatively impacted the education and performance of these children.

The Nziramasanga Commission recommended inclusive education which promotes and accommodates all children, regardless of their physical, linguistic, social, and intellectual conditions. Attitudes toward epilepsy are influenced by the degree of knowledge of the condition.

The School of Psychological Services, which is under the Ministry of Education, works closely with children with special needs. Most children with epilepsy can learn at conventional schools, except for severe cases.

“It’s possible that some school authorities may reject a student with such a condition due to lack of awareness and knowledge of epilepsy,” said Elijah Mamvura, the Principal Remedial Tutor at the SPS. The United College of Education in Bulawayo is the only College offering special needs education in the country. Specialised tutors are thin on the ground, therefore only 11 students were enrolled last year.

“Financial problems have also made it difficult for us to train our staff and create awareness programmes to encourage school management and other students not to feel threatened by children with epilepsy,” said Mamvura.

However, ESFZ still believes attitudes are changing. Together with the Harare Central Hospital, the ESFZ have been carrying out awareness campaigns and training third-year nurses.

“Medical personnel really need to be trained on the condition and if we manage, we will know epilepsy will no longer be a curse,” said Margaret Makoni, a Senior Nurse at ESFZ.

“A lack of resources limits our work and we are unable to reach the rural areas where the information is needed the most,” said Mugwagwa.

Post published in: Africa News

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