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This article was published in September 2013. The information may be out of date. Please check our epilepsy information or our site A-Z.

UK doctor – reducing ‘witchcraft’ treatments in Ethiopia

5 Sep 2013

A Southampton doctor is successfully challenging outdated attitudes to epilepsy in Ethiopia. His initiative aims teach people that ‘witchcraft’ treatments for epilepsy are wrong and improve medical care in rural areas. Epilepsy care in the UK and other developed nations may still require improvement. Understanding and treatments for the condition in other countries, however, are further behind still.

In some of the poorest countries in the world, many people still believe that epilepsy can have a supernatural cause and may be contagious. In countries such as Ethiopia, people with epilepsy in rural areas often approach traditional healers. These healers may try and cure seizures by using so-called ‘witchcraft’.

Dr Martin Prevett is a consultant neurologist at Southampton General Hospital. His recent initiative aims to offer medical treatment for seizures to those living in rural areas of Ethiopia.

Dr Prevett told The Southern Daily Echo: “Ethiopia has a population of about 80 million, 85 per cent [over three quarters] of whom live in rural communities with limited access to medical care…

“The rural poor, who are isolated and have limited access to healthcare, frequently attribute epilepsy to supernatural causes or evil spirits and most will first seek help from traditional healers, which leaves them vulnerable to permanent injury caused by untreated and ongoing seizures.”

Dr Prevett’s initiative – called the Southampton-Ethiopia chronic disease partnership – has been very successful. To date, around 8,000 people around the cities of Jimma and Gondar have now been treated for their epilepsy. A reduction in seizure frequency has been experienced by 80 per cent (four fifths) of those attending his clinics. Of those, half are now entirely seizure-free.

The team are now confident that the success of the project in Ethiopia means that they can successfully expand the initiative in other countries.

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