How to help epileptics, nearly a million in Kenya

'Angaza Kifafa' campaign team during the flagging off of the campaign at Mombasa public Helth Department offices. /PILI CHIMERAH
'Angaza Kifafa' campaign team during the flagging off of the campaign at Mombasa public Helth Department offices. /PILI CHIMERAH

Epilepsy is a chronic disorder of the brain that affects people millions of people worldwide.

The World Health Organisation estimates that 50 million people are suffering from the disease globally.

The most affected are people from low and middle-income countries, and unfortunately, three quarters of them do not get proper treatment.

The National Epilepsy Coordination Committee

says epilepsy distorts brain activity, causing seizures or periods of unusual behaviour, sensations and sometimes loss of awareness.

Most common signs of epilepsy include seizures, which may at times lead to unconsciousness and lost control of bladder or bowel function.

Each year, 2.4 million people are diagnosed with the disease globally.

In Kenya, close to 1 million people live with the disease, and two of every 100 epileptics do not get to see a doctor due to lack of knowledge about the disease.

NECC chairman Symon Kariuki, a researcher with Kemri, said:

“It used to be that more than 90 per cent of people do not get enough medication, and some even if they get the medication, they do not take them.

“The percentage has recently dropped to 60 per cent, which we feel is still high. So more awareness should be created through campaigns and coordination among stakeholders to ensure the disease does not kill people, because at times it is a killer disease.”

Kariuki said the coast region has the highest number of people suffering from the disease. This is followed by the Western region, which is mostly influenced by the high number of people suffering from malaria, a major contributor to epilepsy when it affects the brain.

There are various types of epilepsy. Active epilepsy involves having seizures frequently, while inactive epilepsy involves maybe getting a seizure after a long time.

Non-convulsive epilepsy is when one suffers from epilepsy but does not undergo seizures. It is like a silent epilepsy.

The signs might only be the victim showing signs of confusion while they walk around. Kariuki says this kind is hard to identify.

“In non-convulsive epilepsy, you will not experience someone having seizures, and this sometimes affects the statistics we get because it is highly unnoticeable by many people,” he said.


First aid when one is experiencing seizures is really important, but most people get it wrong when they are handling a person experiencing seizures.

This include putting a spoon or a stick inside a mouth of a victim to prevent him from injuring himself through biting.

Dr Eddie Chengo, an epilepsy specialist and also the NECC vice chair, discourages this.

“Most times the person has already bitten himself, and it is easier to treat a bite wound than risking blocking air passage to the victim,

which might lead to suffocation.”

He also discouraged giving food and drinks to the victim at the moment.

People around should give him enough space and ensure there is no object around that might harm him.

“The person attending to such a patient should ensure they have relaxed,” the specialist said.

The attendant should put the patient’s head on one side to prevent him choking on his own saliva, especially when the person is releasing form through his mouth.

In case the seizure persists for more than two minutes, then the person is supposed to be rushed to hospital for checkup and further treatment.

Chengo said 70 per cent of people living with epilepsy are likely to recover from the disease and live a normal life.

Some might, however, be required to live their whole lives using medication to avoid frequent seizures.

He urged people to understand that some of the medication used might have side-effects, but these should not be mistaken with witchcraft. And patients once put on treatment should strictly continue with medication.