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Bull World Health Organ. 2002;80(5):378-83.

The treatment gap and primary health care for people with epilepsy in rural Gambia.

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  • 1Medical Research Council Laboratories, Banjul, The Gambia.



To study primary-level management for people with epilepsy in rural Gambia by means of community surveys.


After population screening was carried out, visits were made by a physician who described the epidemiology of epilepsy and its management. Gaps between required management and applied management were investigated by conducting interviews and discussions with people with epilepsy and their communities.


The lifetime prevalence of epilepsy was 4.9/1000 and the continuous treatment rate was less than 10%. The choice of treatment was shaped by beliefs in an external spiritual cause of epilepsy and was commonly expected to be curative but not preventive. Treatment rarely led to the control of seizures, although when control was achieved, the level of community acceptance of people with epilepsy increased. Every person with epilepsy had sought traditional treatment. Of the 69 people with active epilepsy, 42 (61%) said they would like to receive preventive biomedical treatment if it were available in their local community. Key programme factors included the local provision of effective treatment and community information with, in parallel, clarification of the use of preventive treatment and genuine integration with current traditional sources of treatment and advice.


Primary-level management of epilepsy could be integrated into a chronic disease programme covering hypertension, diabetes, asthma and mental health. Initial diagnosis and prescribing could take place away from the periphery but recurrent dispensing would be conducted locally. Probable epilepsy etiologies suggest that there is scope for primary prevention through the strengthening of maternal and child health services.

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