17-23 June 2013 is Epilepsy Week and the week incorporates 21 June which is Epilepsy Day. We are therefore called upon to give attention to matters related to this neurological disorder which, according to scientific health research, happens to affect one percent (1%) of the population in South Africa.
Epilepsy Week coincides with Youth month. It can, therefore, only be fair and reasonable to tackle epilepsy in relation to the plight of the young people of the republic in light of the main two focal points of this youth month i.e. drug free South Africa and youth development. These two focal points for the youth month of 2013 are very important as economic development and the scourge of drug trade and abuse are arguably among the apex, urgent and pressing challenges that the youth of this day are faced with.
Drugs and alcohol abuse in society are notoriously known for their health and social destruction. Many people with symptomatic (secondary) epilepsy would agree that if it were not for alcohol and drug abuse, either by themselves or their pregnant mothers, they would be seizure free. Many work and road accidents which lead to death and injuries are due to alcohol and drug use by workers, drivers, passengers and pedestrians alike. Head injuries resulting from these accidents launch an epileptic era in the lives of victims.
Drugs and alcohol render medication useless and, at worst, dangerous and deadly. This is said in light of the fact that recreational drugs interfere with anti-epileptic medication and usually worsen the associated side effects. Anticonvulsants such as epilim, tegretol and other medications used to treat epilepsy may exacerbate the effects of alcohol and recreational drugs and thus lead to serious intoxication and crippling of the body.
Most patients with epilepsy , among many seizure triggers like flickering lights, stress, lack of sleep et cetera, find that excessive (sometimes even little) alcohol and drug intake , even withdrawal, as the most definite triggers.
Missing or taking medication irregularly is a sure way to trigger seizures. Notwithstanding other factors, since drugs and alcohol usually cause some level of ‘forgetfulness’ and recklessness, they consequently lead to epileptic patients neglecting to take their medication as required and therefore perpetuate the seizures.
The above, though not totally comprehensive, logically calls for the health fraternity and other stakeholders in South Africa, especially the youth, to work towards combating the scourge of recreational drugs and alcohol for people with and affected by epilepsy even beyond Epilepsy Week.
The youth with and affected by epilepsy must welcome the Anti-Substance Abuse National Plan of Action and the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Substance Abuse for the benefit the society and its youth, including those of us living with epilepsy to build a drug free South Africa.
Youth development is very important if we are to build a healthy and thriving society. Central to youth development is economic empowerment. This entails, amongst other things, the creation and access to decent jobs which young people with epilepsy and other chronic health conditions and disabilities are sometimes unfairly excluded from due to lack of support and ‘understanding’ by some people in society.
Sometimes youth with epilepsy find themselves being discriminated against. Of course, there are some industries for which epileptic people are reasonably restricted such as mining, construction, military etc. However, it is unconstitutional and unjust for epileptic youth to be denied opportunities and necessary support to access jobs for which they can do well. People with epilepsy have made an impact in fields such as medicine, politics, philosophy, engineering, sport, music etc. Therefore, as the government plans to hire at least 60% youth in the green economy, youth with epilepsy and disabilities should not be forgotten as they have a lot to contribute to the development of South Africa.
Youth with epilepsy need the government and relevant authorities to provide training and skills that would open the door to economic opportunities for them. The NYDA and other youth structures should ensure that equity policies are not ignored by the employers, including government. Enough support and funding should be availed for the youth with epilepsy and other chronic health conditions. There should be clear and measurable targets and plans as to how the interests of the youth with chronic health conditions like epilepsy are going to be addressed. This will go a long way in bettering the lives of the young people in general.
Youth Development without the youth with disabilities and chronic health conditions is incomplete.
In this Epilepsy Week, let us work together to empower youth with epilepsy and build a drug free South Africa and promote youth development.
Sandile Latha (Dinileminyanya)
Advocacy and Public Relations
Epilepsy South Africa, Eastern Cape.
He writes in his personal capacity