Basildon and Thurrock University Hospital, Essex, UK is linking with Lumley Government Hospital, Freetown, Sierra Leone to establish and support the very first functioning clinical epilepsy service in Sierra Leone. As part of the project, The Epilepsy Association of Sierra Leone is carrying out community outreach work to encourage people to attend clinic and raise awareness of the condition. UK-based Medical Assistance Sierra Leone is providing logistical support and assisting with additional resource mobilisation.
There is very little understanding of epilepsy in Sierra Leone: it is very rarely diagnosed, and sufferers are often socially excluded from their communities – to devastating effect. Epilepsy rates are higher in Sierra Leone than in Western European countries chiefly due to birth trauma, and the consequences of meningitis. With an estimated 60,000 people with epilepsy in Sierra Leone, the scale of need is huge.
With funding from the International Health Links Funding Scheme, a health partnership between Basildon and Thurrock University Hospital in the UK and Lumley Hospital in Freetown has been working to improve epilepsy care in Sierra Leone. UK volunteers have trained clinical staff from Lumley hospital in the diagnosis and treatment of epilepsy, and these local staff now run regular epilepsy clinics at Lumley hospital and several outreach clinics in rural towns across the country. Within one year the health link had set up three outpatient clinics at Lumley Hospital, and nine outreach clinics had been established in rural provinces. Consultant Neurologist Dr Lisk from Basildon Hospital is leading the training and clinic work in Sierra Leone - training local counterparts in the use of the EEG machine, understanding types of epilepsy, prescribing appropriate medication and managing such a service. Treatment is transforming people’s lives. Most adults who attend the clinic have never been to school, have no source of income and have not had the chance to have a family of their own. Their lives have been lived predominantly in social and economic isolation. After one year the clinical service has provided diagnosis, medication and ongoing care to nearly 1500 people.
In addition to addressing the medical consequences of the disease, the health partnership has been active in raising people’s awareness and understanding of epilepsy through local media, working to tackle the stigmatisation and discrimination faced by those with the condition.
Photo Credit @Tom Bradley Photography, for Medical Assistance Sierra Leone