Dr Akwasi Osei, Chief Psychiatrist, Ministry of Health has expressed worry about the severe shortage of Neurology Specialists in the country, which has contributed to the huge treatment gap for persons living with epilepsy.
He said Ghana can only boast of five neurologists, who are based in the Greater Accra and Ashanti Regions, only 12 practicing Psychiatrists and three Psychiatric Hospitals for the 25 million Ghanaians.
He noted that, Epilepsy is a worldwide phenomenon, with Ghana having ten out of every 1000 people suffering from the condition.
Dr Osei told the Ghana News Agency in an interview at the ongoing two-day Multi Country Epilepsy Workshop organised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Accra.
The Chief Psychiatrist explained that because of the absence of specialists to provide quality health care treatment to persons living with epilepsy, “only a few people have access to prompt treatment, impeding the goal of making services accessible to all”.
The workshop will among other objectives, discuss Ghana’s Fight Against Epilepsy Initiative (FAEI), which started in 2012 and would end this year.
It is to serve as a model for other countries to adapt from and examine the challenges that exist regarding epilepsy care, risk or resources, access to medicines and the need to increase investment in epilepsy care.
The initiative also aimed at improving access to basic health care and services for people with epilepsy, raising awareness, placing treatment of epilepsy as a priority in the national health agenda and involving non-specialists providers in epilepsy care.
It was also aimed at reducing stigma and increasing demand for epilepsy care in the country.
Countries participating include Uganda, Mozambique, Togo, Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Vietnam.
Epilepsy is a brain disorder in which a person has repeated seizures or convulsions over time. Seizures are episodes of disturbed brain activity that causes changes in attention or behaviour.
Seizures are controllable with medication in about 70 per cent of cases. In those whose seizures do not respond to medication, then surgery, neurostimulation, or dietary changes may be considered.
Not all cases of epilepsy are life-long; some people do improve to the point that medication is no longer needed.
According to the WHO, epilepsy affects more than 50 million people globally, affects up to 10 million people on the African continent and 80 per cent of these people do not receive treatment due to poor integration into the primary health care system, poor supply and distribution of medicines, attitudes, beliefs, stigma and human rights abuse.
Dr Osei noted that epilepsy was a medical condition largely treatable.
So far, 850 people have been trained in five regions to reduce the treatment gap, which has been a great challenge. The regions are Volta, Greater Accra, Eastern, Central and Northern.
Dr Albert Akpalu, Head of the Neurology Department of the Korle-bu Teaching Hospital, in an interview with the GNA explained that, with the five neurologists in the country, three were based in Korle-bu, serving the southern part of the country, whilst the other two were based in Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital serving the northern part of the country.
“We are even receiving patients from Togo and neighbouring countries that do not have such specialists’.
This he explained was very worrisome, but added that, neurology globally, is a medical field that not many doctors express interest in, due to the number of years one had to spend in training and this does not make it attractive to doctors to specialize in.
“After seven years in medical school, one has to spend another 10 years specializing in this field and that many see as too much”.
To address the shortage of specialists in neurology, Dr Akpalu said currently five students are in the training school, who would soon complete their course to join them on the field.
He said as an interim measure, a Multi Disciplinary Team made up of pharmacists, nurses, and other medical personnel have been trained to assist, as well as the creation of other units to deal with stroke and psychiatry cases separately, adding that, “This is to ease the pressure on the two main teaching hospitals and make services accessible”.
He encouraged medical students to specialize in neurology to help address the shortage of specialists and save the lives of persons living with epilepsy.