Epilepsy in sub-Saharan Africa: its socio-demography, aetiology, diagnosis and EEG characteristics in Harare, Zimbabwe

  • MB Sebit Department of Psychiatry, College of Health Sciences, University of Zimbabwe, P. O Box 4178, Avondale, Harare, Zimbabwe
  • J Mielke Department of Medicine, College of Health Sciences, University of Zimbabwe, P. O Box 4178, Avondale, Harare, Zimbabwe


Objective: To assess epileptics with regard to socio-demographic characteristics, aetiology, EEG results and classification.
Design: A descriptive cohort study from 1997 to 2001.
Setting: Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals in Harare, Zimbabwe. Subjects: A total of 229 consecutive epileptic subjects.
Results: The mean (s.d.) follow-up was 3.2 (1.14) years. The mean (s.d.) age of subjects was 23.4(11.8) years and 56% of them were males, over one third (43.1%) were unemployed and had secondary education (48%). Over one fourth (26.6%) of the subjects were first borns and had a family history of epilepsy (25.8%). Most of the subjects had Generalised Tonic Clonic Seizures (TCS). Over half (51.5%) of the subjects had their first onset of seizures after the age of 20 years. Lack of sleep (7.9%) and emotional disturbance (5.4%) were described by subjects as the frequent provoking factors for epileptic attacks. One hundred and fourteen subjects had electroencephalogram (EEG) results. Of these, 96 (41.9%) subjects had abnormal EEG results and only 18 (7.9%) had normal EEG results a majority (43.8%) of whom were of generalised slow waves. Majority of the subjects (52.8%) sought treatments from biomedical drugs, but some started with traditional herbs (20.5%) and then biomedical drugs, whereas others sought biomedical drugs then resorted to traditional herbs (20.1%). Phenobarbital and carbamazepine were taken by over 40% of the subjects.
Conclusion: The findings of this study seem to suggest that these referrals to a specialised epilepsy outpatient clinic for further management may be attributed to socio cultural issues in our African settings about the actual nature of the condition, hence the delay in treatments and diagnosis of seizures as well as under diagnoses of non-epileptic seizure disorders that may lead to the condition becomes uncontrollable. Inexpensive drugs such as phenobarbital and phenytoin can be able to control most of the epileptic seizures, if they can be made available in primary health care centres.
East African Medical Journal Vol.82(3) 2005: 129-138

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