The countries of the Americas, with the support of the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO), will work together to create national programs for the care and treatment of epilepsy, a neurological disorder that affects some 5 million people in the Americas. Globally the disorder affects some 50 million people.
Only a few countries in the hemisphere currently have a national epilepsy care program in place. At the 51st PAHO Directing Council meeting representatives of PAHO/WHO Member States approved a Strategy and plan of action on epilepsy that calls for the creation of similar programs in the rest of the countries.
Epilepsy is a chronic disorder of the brain that affects people of all countries. Among the most common causes for epilepsy in Latin America and the Caribbean we can mention infectious and parasitic diseases (particularly neurocysticercosis), perinatal brain damage, vascular diseases, and head trauma. All of these conditions are preventable. The prognosis in cases of epilepsy depends on the illness’s etiology, as well as early and sustained treatment. An estimated 70% of people with epilepsy can lead normal lives if they receive proper care.
As of this PAHO/WHO Directing Council resolution, health authorities from different countries of the Americas agreed to start considering epilepsy a priority issue and to reduce the treatment gap by strengthening the health sector response to the disorder, with a focus on primary care and integrated service networks. Currently more than 50% of the people with epilepsy in Latin America and the Caribbean do not have access to appropriate treatment and care.
Under the new strategy, countries will also work to: strengthen legal frameworks to protect the human rights of people with epilepsy; ensure the availability of all the antiepileptic drugs considered essential for treating the disorder; strengthen neurological services to support case detection and management at the primary care level; support effective participation of the community, users’ associations and family members in activities designed to improve care for people with epilepsy; consider the strengthening of human resources; promote intersectoral and educational initiatives to combat stigma and discrimination against people with epilepsy; reduce the information gap; and strengthen partnerships between the health sector and other sectors, as well as with nongovernmental organizations, academic institutions and key social actors.
The Strategy and action plan was developed by PAHO/WHO after running a consultation process with partners such as the International League against Epilepsy (ILAE), the International Bureau for Epilepsy (IBE), ministries of health and other national organizations, WHO’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, and other experts.