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China, Argentina, Senegal and Zimbabwe lead in UN Campaign against epilepsy

19 February, 2001

Leading a global Campaign against epilepsy, China, Argentina, Senegal and Zimbabwe are implementing projects to train doctors in diagnosing epilepsy and providing treatment for the condition. The World Health Organization (WHO) announced these four "demonstration projects" at the launch of the second stage of its Global Campaign against Epilepsy.

 The four country projects are will serve as a model for other WHO Member States.

"Since 1997, WHO and its partner organizations have worked hard to alert people and governments around the world to the unnecessary suffering and loss caused by untreated epilepsy," said Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, WHO’s Director-General. "We have developed concrete strategies to substantially improve treatment and the time has come to turn these ideas into results on the ground."

The four demonstration projects will assess the number of people suffering from epilepsy in the participating provinces and train primary health care workers within the existing primary health service how best to diagnose and treat epilepsy patients. Experiences with the projects will be used as a base for developing national programmes in the four countries and to assist other countries in designing their own projects.

Epilepsy affects at least 50 million people world-wide. Around 85 per cent of them living in developing countries. There are two million new cases occurring in the world every year.

Up to 80 per cent of persons with epilepsy could lead normal lives if properly treated, but the overwhelming majority of patients does not get any treatment at all. WHO Regional Office for the Americas estimates that out of five million people with epilepsy in the region, 3.5 million are believed to be untreated. A recent survey of 30 Latin American countries revealed that none of them had national policies for epilepsy. In sub-Saharan Africa, there is one neurologist for four million people.

The global campaign, called "Out of the Shadows", is focusing on stigma and discrimination associated with epilepsy in the community, at the workplace, at school and at home. "Our aim is to improve treatment, prevention and social acceptance of epilepsy, the world’s most common – yet treatable – brain disorder," said Dr Brundtland.