Epilepsy-associated stigma in sub-Saharan Africa: The social landscape of a disease, 2005

Many studies in developed regions of the world have confirmed that stigma contributes substantially to the psychological and social burden of epilepsy. Relatively few studies of epilepsy-associated stigma have been conducted in Africa, where much of the world’s burden of epilepsy exists. In sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), particularly in rural regions, close family ties, communal living situations, and traditional belief systems undoubtedly influence the expression of stigmatization. A review of the epidemiologic, anthropologic, and sociologic studies of epilepsy in SSA provides significant insights into how people with epilepsy (PWE) are per- ceived by their communities and families and how these perceptions translate into limited social and economic opportunities and possibly worsen the physical vulnerability of PWE in this region. The medical community is not exempt from the social process of stigmatization, and poor public health infrastructure and medical services undoubtedly contribute to the cycle of epilepsy-asso- ciated stigma through wide treatment gaps, poor seizure control, and high rates of seizure-related injury. In this review, we extrapolate data from existing studies of epilepsy in SSA coupled with our own experience providing epilepsy care in the region to give an overview of the social landscape of this common, devastating condition.

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