WHO calls for action around epilepsy

Published: June 27 2019
Last updated: September 28 2022

The World Health Organization (WHO) has released a 2019 report highlighting global concerns about epilepsy treatment.

The report, Epilepsy, a public health imperative, was released on Thursday 20 June, calling for action to improve healthcare and reduce stigma and discrimination.

The findings of the report show risk of premature deaths in epilepsy is higher in low- and middle-income countries, compared to high-income countries.

Reasons given by the report include a lack of access to healthcare, leading to problems with continuing seizures and resulting injuries. Dr Tarun Dua from the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse at WHO called the treatment gap for epilepsy “unacceptably high”.

Within the UK, Public Health England found a similar link between deprived areas and a higher risk of premature deaths in a 2018 report.

Stigma was also highlighted by the WHO report as a global issue in epilepsy. President of the International Bureau for Epilepsy, Prof Martin Brodie, said this is a factor “preventing people from seeking treatment”.

The report suggests that public information campaigns can help reduce stigma, and putting laws in place to protect people’s rights can decrease discrimination. To reduce treatment gaps, WHO suggests epilepsy treatment from primary care doctors, like family doctors and GPs, may improve access to healthcare and medicines in poorer areas.

Also covered in the report are strategies to reduce preventable cases of epilepsy – which represent about a quarter of all epilepsy cases. These are ones where epilepsy is caused by things like brain injuries, infections of the brain, and stroke. Screening, immunisations and better healthcare are suggested as ways to tackle this.

Dr Samuel Wiebe, president of the International League Against Epilepsy, said action is needed to introduce the necessary measures to make a difference.

The report concludes that urgent actions needed include investment in healthcare systems, more priority given to epilepsy research and improving public attitudes towards epilepsy.