‘School teachers need to be educated about epilepsy’


New Delhi : Many children suffering from epilepsy get little sympathy from their teachers when they get seizures in school and are often told to quit school, a health expert has said while underlining the urgent need to educate schools about epilepsy and how to help affected students.

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“I get many children who have been told by their schools to stay at home ’till they are cured’. This just shows the complete lack of understanding people have about epilepsy in India and how to manage this treatable health condition,” said Mamta Bhushan Singh, assistant professor in the department of neurology at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS).

“There is a pressing need to organise talks in schools about epilepsy in order to educate teachers about it. If schools begin to stigmatise students affected by epilepsy as someone abnormal, then it increases the problem. It becomes more difficult for the child to cope. We need educators and counsellors besides doctors to help because epilepsy is a treatable disease,” Singh said on the sidelines of a talk on ‘Epilepsy: Need for greater awareness’ at the India International Centre here.

The doctor’s comments came after the mother of a child suffering from epilepsy said that her son was told by teachers of his well-known south Delhi private school to “remain at home till he is cured”.

“This just shows the lack of awareness and understanding people have about epilepsy,” the doctor said.

Around 10 million people in India – 10 out of 1,000 people – have epilepsy, but most do not have access to proper treatment, especially in rural areas.

“The treatment gap, which means epilepsy patients not getting treatment or getting inadequate treatment, is huge – around 70-90 percent. This is a dismal state of affairs,” said Singh.

“There is a stigma attached to epilepsy, which makes people tend to keep it under wraps. This is wrong and harmful for the patient,” she said, adding that many people run to quacks for treatment instead of coming to hospitals.

“Nowadays there are very good drugs to treat epilepsy, and in case the drugs do not work surgery is also done in special cases, which has proved very beneficial,” Singh said. AIIMS is one of the few hospitals in India where specialised surgery is done for epilepsy patients.

Asked if ayurveda is helpful in treating epilepsy patients, Singh recounted the case of a well-known “ayurveda” doctor in Haridwar who would put out huge advertisements in newspapers of how he could cure epilepsy with his “wonder herbal drug”.

“We at AIIMS were worried because many of his patients began to report to us,” she said. The quack was arrested and when his “herbal medicine” was examined at AIIMS they found it to contain a mixture of 3-4 known allopathic epilepsy medicines.

“He would crush the allopathic medicines into a paste and administer it to epilepsy patients, irrespective of their symptoms or severity. This was even more dangerous.”

A major reason for children getting epilepsy is head injuries. Children fall off open roofs, which don’t have ramparts, during play and hurt their heads, which results in scarring of the brain.

Babies born at home are at risk of getting epilepsy, she said. “The baby born at home could cry late and there would be no doctor to provide immediate treatment, this could lead to epilepsy. A difficult birthing could also result in the baby developing epilepsy,” Singh said.

Another major contributor to epilepsy cases is eating unwashed leafy greens. Green vegetables like cabbage and lettuce, which grow near the soil surface, could have tapeworm eggs. These eggs if ingested travel through the blood stream to the brain and cause epilepsy seizures.

Singh said eating leafy green vegetables served in hotels, especially those in sandwiches and in Chinese dishes, which are partially cooked, should be avoided.

These are causes for epilepsy that are “preventable”, said the doctor.

Don’t pin down a person getting an epilepsy attack, just make him/her lie down on one side and remove any sharp objects from near the person. Don’t also try to put something in their mouth, she added.