Bringing awareness and support to people who deal with seizures is the goal of the Young Epilepsy Botswana (YEB)’s fifth annual walk set for March 23. The annual campaign that will start from the Grand Palm is the brainchild of YEB Founder Itha Khan who seeks to educate the public on the little-understood brain disorder. Awareness campaigns, according to Khan provide an opportunity for the epilepsy community to create change for people with epilepsy while educating the general public about epilepsy and seizures, as well as seizure first aid. Epilepsy is a chronic disorder of the brain that is characterised by recurrent seizures, which are physical reactions to sudden, usually brief, excessive electrical discharges in a group of brain cells. The nature of the seizures varies, ranging from brief lapses of attention, muscle spasms and staring spells to severe and prolonged convulsions, which are violent and involuntary, contractions, or a series of muscle contractions. Seizures can also vary in frequency, from once a year to several a day. Even though epilepsy is one of the world’s oldest recognised conditions, it is surrounded by fear, misunderstanding, discrimination and social stigma. During a seizure, some people behave awkwardly, such as repeating a word or phrase, blinking repeatedly, staring into space, responding slowly, scratching something like a button, or repeatedly hitting something. During seizures, some people might not respond to questions, or they might speak incoherently, crumple pieces of paper or appear frightened and scream. In an interview with SunHealth, Khan stressed the importance of identifying and addressing these symptoms early, and with suitable forms of intervention to reduce the consequences they might have on the individual’s long-term quality of life. “Stigma is also very common when dealing with both epilepsy and mental illness. It is this stigma that delays care, impairs aggressive management of the condition and, therefore, worsens the prognosis,” she said. Khan who had her first attack at 14 years old, observed that in addition to stigma, lack of adequate and accessible health care are hampering the management of the condition. “The challenges can easily be overcome through proper training of medics, awareness creation and treatment,” she said. Khan also noted that the situation has also been exacerbated by lack of current data on the number of sufferers. “There is need for government to conduct surveys and enhance awareness on epilepsy. This will help in planning and coming up with a much needed specific programme for epilepsy,” she said. She lamented that people continue to suffer despite it being treatable, with some communities attributing it to witchcraft. Khan said; “people living with epilepsy can lead normal lives if the condition is managed. It is unfortunate that some end up with permanent injuries due to lack of awareness and stigma”. In many communities, especially in rural areas Khan said, epilepsy is associated with curses, evil spirits or punishment for past sins. People with epilepsy are said to be possessed by demons, which cause them to convulse from time to time. Some families feel ashamed when a member has the condition. That is why she appeals for more support and sponsorship in order to be able to reach communities that really need the education and support YEB offers. STEPS TO TAKE IF SOMEONE IS HAVING A SEIZURE Do your best to stay calm. Understanding what is taking place should help you to do this. Try to prevent injury by ensuring that there is nothing nearby or within reach that could harm the person. Be sure to keep yourself out of harm’s way if the individual is thrashing and writhing around vigorously. There is no need to try and restrain anyone who is having a seizure. Call emergency services. Do not put anything in the person’s mouth. Once the individual’s seizure has stopped place them in the recovery position. Turn the person’s head so any vomit can easily drain from their mouth and make sure they are breathing normally. Do not give the person liquids, medication or food until they are fully alert. Stay with the person until he or she recovers, which should be within five to 20 minutes.