Stigma and epilepsy in onchocerciasis-endemic regions in Africa: a review and recommendations from the onchocerciasis-associated epilepsy working group
Background: In onchocerciasis-endemic areas, particularly in those with a sub-optimal onchocerciasis control programme, a high prevalence of epilepsy is observed. Both onchocerciasis and epilepsy are stigmatizing conditions. The first international workshop on onchocerciasis-associated epilepsy (OAE) was held in Antwerp, Belgium (12–14 October 2017) and during this meeting, an OAE alliance was established. In this paper, we review what is known about epilepsy-associated stigma in onchocerciasis-endemic regions, and present the recommendations of the OAE alliance working group on stigma.
Main body: For this scoping review, literature searches were performed on the electronic databases PubMed, Scopus and Science Direct using the search terms “epilepsy AND onchocerciasis AND stigma”. Hand searches were also undertaken using Google Scholar, and in total seven papers were identified that addressed epilepsy-related stigma in an onchocercisasis-endemic area. Due to the limited number of published research papers on epilepsy-associated stigma in onchocerciasis-endemic areas, other relevant literature that describes important aspects related to stigma is discussed. The thematic presentation of this scoping review follows key insights on the barriers to alleviating the social consequences of stigma in highly affected onchocerciasis-endemic areas, which were established by experts during the working group on stigma and discrimination at the first international workshop on OAE. These themes are: knowledge gaps, perceived disease aetiology, access to education, marriage restrictions, psycho-social well-being, burden on the care-giver and treatment seeking behaviour. Based on the literature and expert discussions during the OAE working group on stigma, this paper describes important issues regarding epilepsy-related stigma in onchocerciasis-endemic regions and recommends interventions that are needed to reduce stigma and discrimination for the improvement of the psycho-social well-being of persons with epilepsy.
Conclusions: Educating healthcare workers and communities about OAE, strengthening onchocerciasis elimination programs, decreasing the anti-epileptic treatment gap, improving the care of epilepsy-related injuries, and prioritising epilepsy research is the way forward to decreasing the stigma associated with epilepsy in onchocerciasis-endemic regions