As many as four out of every five people with epilepsy in low-income countries do not have access to medication – yet at least half of them could be easily treated with medicines costing as little as R60 a year. All the more reason, then, that today – World Brain Day – has as its theme ““Epilepsy is more than seizures”, says the World Federation of Neurology.

The federation initiated the annual global awareness campaign.  This year, its efforts were supported by the International Bureau for Epilepsy, the International League Against Epilepsy and the World Health Organisation. More than 50 million people worldwide live with epilepsy, but diagnostic and therapeutic resources are unequally distributed globally.

Epilepsy is one of the most common chronic neurological conditions. It is estimated to affect more than 50 million people around the world, and about 2,4 million people are newly diagnosed every year”, according to Dr Raad Shakir, President of the World Federation of Neurology (WFN). “However, there is a lack of awareness in the public and among decision makers about the severe consequences for the individuals concerned, their families and societies.” Dr Shakir addressed this appeal to the public on the occasion of this year’s World Brain Day, which every year is dedicated to a different neurological disease or topic.

In 2015, the WFN is partnering with the World Health Organisation, the International League Against Epilepsy (ILAE) and the International Bureau for Epilepsy (IBE) in order to “bring greater visibility to this neglected condition”, as Dr Shakir puts it. “Just in terms of life years lost from sudden unexpected death, epilepsy ranks second only to stroke among major neurological diseases. Health care and research agendas at the global, regional and national level clearly need to recognise and take into account the seriousness of epilepsy and its consequences. We need joint efforts to ensure that resources are made available for alleviating the social, medical and economic burden borne by those with a condition that is among the most treatable brain condition.

 “At least half of the people with epilepsy worldwide could be easily treated with medicines which cost as little as (R60) for one year of treatment. Apart from other causes of seizure-related mortality, an estimated 60 000 people die every year of sudden unexpected death related to epilepsy,” says Dr Emilio Perucca, President of the International League Against Epilepsy (ILAE). “In all societies, people with epilepsy often suffer more from neglect and social isolation than from the medical manifestation of the condition. Devoting World Brain Day to epilepsy is an important contribution to raising awareness and improving the lives of people with epilepsy throughout the world. We are truly grateful to WFN for joining forces with us in the fight against epilepsy.”

What is epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a neurological condition characterised by recurrent seizures that are due to brief disturbances in the electrical functions of the brain, with excessive electrical discharges in a group of brain cells. The type of seizure depends on which area of the brain is involved. A person having a seizure may experience an alteration in behaviour, consciousness, movement, perception and/or sensation. In the majority of cases, the cause for the epileptic seizures is known, including origins such as genetic conditions, abnormalities in brain development, stroke, head injuries and brain trauma, infections, tumour or brain damage during or after delivery.