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Vast majority of epilepsy sufferers get no help, WHO study shows

Vast majority of epilepsy sufferers get no help, WHO study shows

An estimated 39 million people in the world suffer from epilepsy, but some 30 million of them -- nearly three out of every four -- get almost no help for the condition, according to a study published in the latest issue of the Bulletin of the World Health Organization (WHO).

In contrast to other chronic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease, epilepsy carries a heavy burden of stigma that poses a major obstacle to treatment, according to the study.

The treatment gap is also the result of the low priority health authorities often give to epilepsy. "Despite its importance and the existence of an often-effective remedy," the authors write, "epilepsy is not generally recognized as a public health priority." They blame this on negative cultural attitudes, poverty, poor health infrastructure and inadequate supplies of anti-epileptic drugs.

The authors argue that the treatment gap can only be properly closed if poverty is dealt with simultaneously on the local, national, and global levels. They laud a number of projects in Africa which aim to reduce stigma and provide epilepsy sufferers with simple drug treatment free of charge. Similar efforts, the study concludes, may also prove to be of value in the treatment of other non-communicable diseases.