Medicine and prayer – a potent combination to fight epilepsy


Estimates show that around 2.4% of the population of Malawi suffers from epilepsy. SIM Malawi missionary Dr Diane Young is part of a team in Lilongwe working hard to help sufferers cope with the condition and also to debunk some of the myths surrounding it


Epilepsy is a condition which strikes fear into the hearts and minds of many people in Malawi. Some think it is a direct effect of witchcraft, some that it is a contagious disease and if they touch a sufferer they too will be ‘infected’.

Dr Diane Young (right) is, like all medical professionals, adamant about its causes: “Epilepsy is a medical condition causing seizures affecting the body. It is often the result of brain injury from various causes. It is not contagious and it is not due to witchcraft,” she says.

Diane, who is normally found at the Africa Bible College Community Clinic, helps a small team who, twice a month, staff the Children of Blessing Trust Epilepsy Clinic in Lilongwe’s Area 25. Around 900 people, mainly children from infant to high-school age but with some adults as well, attend the clinic for diagnosis and to receive the medicines needed for them to keep the condition under control.

“Every second Thursday, the children and their families come to get anti-convulsant medicine to help to control epilepsy. Many of the children who come have other disabilities and the epilepsy can come as a result of various brain injuries that they have. That can complicate the brain injury and can hamper the progress of recovery,” said Diane.

The clinic serves a significant part of Lilongwe and the surrounding villages.

“Many of the people come quite long distances to get care. Some of them come because they have failed to get help closer to home, and so they come here,” she said.

Epilepsy consultation: A translator (far right)) clarifying matters in a consultation at the Children of Blessing Epilepsy Clinic in Lilongwe’s Area 25

“Sometimes they come out of desperation, sometimes because they have heard from a friend that they have had help and so then they come. We heard of one incident where someone was out buying cloth, and they saw an adolescent have a seizure. Someone said, ‘You need to go to Area 25 to get help’ and they travelled here.

New patients are sometimes brought to the clinic by non-family members. This was the case with Johanne Ledson, a young man in his early twenties, who had been brought from his home village of Kabadula by a local pastor, Lanc Chaola. Johanne was the second person Pastor Chaola had brought to Children of Blessing for treatment.

“I have done this because I am sympathising with him on seeing what is happening to him,” Pastor Chaola said.

“According to the Word of the Lord you have to be merciful to the congregation you are serving. We are preaching mercy to the physical and spiritual and that is why I felt it important to bring him here. I bring people here because it is my wish for them to be healed if possible with the will of God.”

A recent development by the clinic is to have a team of people who travel to each of eight rural locations once a month to deliver the medicines directly to the sufferers. They do not undertake any first-up diagnosis but help sufferers by delivering the drugs they need to them.

“New patients come (here) to the centre and the ones who are having difficulties come here, but the stable ones can get their medicines out in their own village from our community team. Ideally, their local health centres should do this, and we would love it if they could, but it seems they have difficulties with the stocking of the medicines or just knowing how best to prescribe them.”

A helping hand: Pastor Lanc Chaola (right) brought Johanne Ledson to the Clinic for a diagnosis. Johanne is the second person Pastor Chaola has referred

Those attending the clinic do have an added advantage: as well as receiving the medicines they need, they also receive prayer. As Diane says: “We pray for them and ask God to share His healing with the work of the medicines!”

Sometimes there is a spiritual battle raging, because of the beliefs that some people hold about epilepsy. But Diane and her team are working hard to educate people that is not the case.

“Certainly, we have heard that particular misunderstanding concerning witchcraft or that someone may be cursed, and that is why they have epilepsy. Others are fearful of epileptics as they believe they may be infected if they touch them,” she said.

“The important thing is to try and spread information and teaching, and help the families and the parents understand about the illness and how to help their child.

“Also, to make sure they get on to the right medicine and that they continue to be supplied so that they can stay well and healthy.”

The right medicines, the right education and prayer are the three things that are dispensed twice a month (every second week) in Area 25, as parents and guardians and concerned friends, such as Pastor Chaola, bring children and adults to the Children of Blessing Epilepsy Clinic; with that mix, proper care can be given to sufferers and myths can be debunked which, in turn, may help others currently suffering in silence to get the help they need.

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