The Epilepsy and Stigma Conference, held in Lusaka in April, was an initiative of the Epilepsy Association of Zambia, University of Zambia School of Medicine, Meharry Medical College and Vanderbilt University in Nashville, USA.
Initial attendance was projected at 500 but the number was reduced to 200 due to lack of funds. The meeting welcomed speakers and delegates from Malawi, Mozambique, Gambia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Cameroon, USA, Belgium, Sweden, Israel, UK, The Netherlands and Australia. Including Zambia, 14 countries were represented.
The organizing committee arranged a walk to raise public awareness and to promote the conference. First Lady Mrs Thandiwe Banda; Mrs Irene Kunda, wife of the Vice President; as well as the wives of other government ministers were involved in the organizing team. The committee held fundraising collections at a large shopping centre for two weeks prior to the conference and a number of pharmaceuticals companies provided financial and material support.
The conference had 187 registered delegates of which 112 were from within Lusaka, 40 from other districts and 35 foreign delegates. Student nurses, clinical officers and people with epilepsy were allowed to attend free of charge, which brought the total attendance to 250. People with epilepsy attended the conference and had an opportunity to interact.
A number of institutions sponsored delegates, e.g. Michigan State University sponsored members of the Epilepsy Associated Stigma Team; Norma Project sponsored students and staff from the Medical School in Lusaka; and the Epilepsy Association of Zambia sponsored some of its members.
The conference was officially opened by the Vice President of the Republic of Zambia, Mr George Kunda who was accompanied by the Minister of Health Mr Kapembwa Simbao, the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Health Dr Velepi Mtonga, wife of the Vice President Mrs. Irene Kunda, and three Ministers wives who represented the First Lady as Patron of the conference. The First Lady was not present as she was attending the African First Ladies Seminar in Malaysia.
The conference had 41 sessions, including a workshop for people with epilepsy and health care providers.
- Epilepsy Anti-Stigma Toolkit
- Epilepsy: portrait of a Zambian woman
- Managing an Epilepsy Centre
- Determinants of Stigma in Epilepsy: the situation in Cameroon
- Management of Adult Epilepsy in Malawi: a patients perceptive
- Management of Human Cysticercosis in Mozambique
- Causes and Sequelae of Neonatal Seizures
The workshop for people with epilepsy, their families and health providers provided a chance for people to ask questions and give their views on stigma and discrimination in the community. The audience was also able to hear experiences from different countries, specifically Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, UK, USA, Pakistan, South Africa and Zambia. There were even reports from some districts within Zambia. The discussions included observations on how health providers treat patients whenever they visit health centres or hospitals. Health care providers were encouraged to treat all patients equally and to give the needed care to people with epilepsy.
This workshop led some people to arrange further meetings with consultants during the conference to enquire about their condition and what improvements could be made to help them manage their seizures.
The conference concluded with a summary on the way forward to meet the challenge of epilepsy stigma in Africa.