A campaign to make teachers in Sri Lanka more aware of epilepsy has been unveiled during the country's first National Epilepsy Day.
According to a report in the Colombo Sunday Observer, the high rate of students with epilepsy leaving school early is causing concern for health and education authorities.
In a speech to health professionals to mark National Epilepsy Day, Dr Ranjanie Gamage, consultant neurologist and Chairperson of the Epilepsy Task Force of Sri Lanka, commented that the large majority of students with epilepsy are forced to drop out of school due to mistaken notions by their teachers and parents about the disease.
"Most parents still believe that such children are mentally under-developed. Our aim is to correct these wrong beliefs. Since the teacher plays an important role in the classroom where the epileptic child spends a greater part of his or her day under her care, we have decided to involve teachers to encourage them to allow their children to continue with their schooling.
"Our records reveal that fifty per cent of patients continue their studies only up to Grade 5 [aged 10] and only twenty five per cent of schoolchildren with epilepsy, progress up to the GCE (O/L) class [ages 14-16]".
The Epilepsy Task Force has introduced a pilot project in which a hundred schools representing all districts of the island were randomly selected and visited by members of the Task Force to conduct epilepsy awareness programs among both students and teachers as well as parents.
Dr Gamage continued:
"The programmes highlight the damaging psychological and social consequences of not allowing children to continue with their studies on account of their having epilepsy. The response has been encouraging so far."