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Purple Day: Raising awareness about epilepsy

One in 100 people in South Africa suffers from epilepsy, according to the World Health Organization. This has inspired University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) student Anisha Govender, who was diagnosed with epilepsy in 2016, to call for the university community to wear purple on 26 March to raise awareness of the neurological condition that causes nerve cell activity in the brain to be disturbed.

Purple Day, which is observed internationally, is geared at creating awareness of the condition. This is particularly important in Africa as there is sometimes a stigma associated with epilepsy. Govender says sufferers are thought to be possessed, or their seizures are seen as an omen, which is not true.

"Awareness is the first step towards removing the stigma associated with epilepsy," says Govender, who is a first-year Bachelor of Occupational Therapy student.

She says because of the stigma associated with epilepsy, those with the condition are prone to anxiety and depression. "Depression is a result of colleagues, friends and family discouraging those with epilepsy from engaging in activities because of the unpredictable nature of the epilepsy (which is a stereotype)," she says.

"Anxiety is a result of the unpredictable reaction of those being informed about having the epilepsy; people are either understanding or uncomfortable with being associated with a person with epilepsy."

Govender was diagnosed with Temporal to Secondary Epilepsy, which is triggered by photo-stimulation, (bright lights/screens/rooms and flashing lights). This type of epilepsy entails impaired awareness and twitches. "I take chronic medication twice a day at the same time to ensure that the concentration in my system remains relatively stable," she said.

Her friends are considerate and helpful when she has a seizure on campus or at home. "I have a handful of friends who are aware of all my medical conditions and are so supportive. This plays a huge role, because whenever I have a seizure or can feel a seizure coming on, they provide me with the assistance, love and support I need before, during and after."

Govender, who is actively involved with and receives help from the Disability Support Unit at UKZN, says she has memory issues that she overcomes by keeping a diary and working hard to ensure she keeps up with her studies.

She encourages the university community to learn more about the condition and to be accepting and supportive of family, friends and colleagues who are epileptic.

According to Epilepsy SA, there are several types of epilepsy that are generally divided into two groups:

* Generalised seizures occur when the excessive electrical activity encompasses the entire brain, during which the person may lose consciousness.* Partial seizures occur when the excessive electrical activity is limited to one area in the brain, causing either simple partial seizures or complex partial seizures.

Govender says helping a person with epilepsy will depend on their type, so it is best to understand the type that the person tells you about and also consider what assistance they might need.

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Students with epilepsy at UKZN are supported by the Disability Support Unit with the following:

* NSFAS disability funding;* On-campus residences;* They are encouraged to share their condition with UKZN staff and friends so that they may help identify symptoms and assist accordingly;* Students are advised to sit in front in the lecture room and to record lectures;* Lecturers are encouraged to hand over lecture notes a week before lectures, so that a student can prepare for lectures;* Students are encouraged to take in snacks during test and examinations; and* Lecturers are requested to ensure that lighting in the venue is sturdy, as flickering lights might induce an episode.

Words: Raylene Captain-Hasthibeer