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Launch of the Commemoration of the Inaugural International Epilepsy Day

February 13, 2017       CWM Hospital, Suva

Honourable Rosy Akbar, Minister for Health and Medical Services
Honourable Alexander O’Connor, Assistant Minister
Mr. Philip Davies, the Permanent Secretary
Senior Executives and staff of the Ministry
The Epilepsy Fiji Committee and Members
Distinguished Guests
Ladies, gentlemen and children

Ni sa Bula Vinaka, Namaste, Asalaam Alaykum, Noa’ia‘e mauri, and a very good afternoon to you all!

I am most honoured to join you to commemorate the inaugural International Epilepsy Day, to launch Epilepsy Fiji and to open the new electro-encephalo-graphy or EEG unit.

These are significant events in Government’s efforts to improve the quality of health and medical services to all Fijians, and especially to those affected by epilepsy.  It is very encouraging that Fiji is dedicating a day to bring greater attention to and to help educate the public about epilepsy.

Epilepsy is not new to Fiji, or the world for that matter. The condition has been around for generations. It is known as manumanusoni in iTaukei or mirgi in Hindi.

Data on the number of people with epilepsy are scarce but estimates suggest that about one percent of Fijians might be affected by epilepsy. That would equate to more than eight thousand persons.

But, today is not about the number of people affected by epilepsy. International Epilepsy Day, which is marked around the world, is about educating the public to help their understanding of this condition, and importantly to eradicate the stigma and prejudices that are all too often associated with epilepsy.

For the benefit of non-medical persons like myself, epilepsy is a neurological disorder associated with nerve cells in the brain behaving in unusual ways.

Its underlying causes are poorly understood, but it is most commonly recognised by seizures - brief disturbances in the normal electrical functions of the brain which may range from mild to severe, sometimes resulting in the loss of consciousness.

Many of us here today will attest that, in the local village context, people can associate epilepsy with being possessed by a spirit.

The fact that the word epilepsy is derived from the Greek language that means “a condition of being overcome, seized or attacked”, may have contributed to this misunderstanding.

This is why I am happy to be part of the inaugural International Epilepsy Day to help create greater awareness and understanding of this medical disorder.

I am also very pleased to launch Epilepsy Fiji, the group of dedicated individuals who have vowed to promote awareness about epilepsy.

I congratulate the Committee and members of Epilepsy Fiji!

Epilepsy Fiji will not only help increase the general public’s understanding about epilepsy, but through its various activities and observations of events like today, it can encourage more people affected by epilepsy to seek medical treatment.

I am advised that many people are reluctant to seek medical treatment largely because they and their families do not fully understand the condition.

The reality is that there are many misconceptions about epilepsy, including especially how to help a person who is having a seizure.

For example, restraining a person during a seizure is wrong. And, trying to place something into the mouth of the person for fear that he will bite or swallow his tongue, is again absolutely wrong!

Those approaches are typically misconceptions that many of us picked up during our formative years!

Experts now advise that we should not restrain the person nor put anything into his or her mouth.

In fact, the best things to do if someone is having a seizure are to keep calm and try to comfort them, move them carefully away from anything that can cause them injury, such as furniture or other solid objects, and place them on their side, in the so-called recovery position, on the ground.

After suffering a seizure the person might be confused so it is important to talk calmly to them. If it isn’t their first seizure, and they are used to the experience, it may not be necessary to see a doctor or nurse.

On the other hand if they have never had a seizure before, if the seizure lasts for more than five minutes, or if the person doesn’t appear to have recovered fully, then medical help should be sought.

In observing the inaugural International Epilepsy Day and launching Epilepsy Fiji, I strongly encourage all Fijians to educate ourselves about what to do when someone is having a seizure.

I also encourage Epilepsy Fiji to increase awareness of epilepsy and seizures by offering seizure awareness workshops, and distributing information materials to employers, community organisations, including school staff and students, child care providers, recreational leaders and community support workers.  The information and education material should be distributed as wide as possible including the rural communities.

As a proactive approach, I also encourage the Ministry of Health and Medical Services to collaborate with the Ministry of Education to include basic information about epilepsy in the school elementary health and science curriculum, if this has not been done already.

Education and awareness will also help people affected by epilepsy to know that they aren’t alone. You can be rest assured that, as a Nation, we are here for you.

This brings me to the issue of the EEG Unit. The new unit is part of Government’s efforts, through the Ministry of Health and Medical Services, to improve the support for those affected by epilepsy as well as patients with other neurological conditions.

I understand that the new unit comprises of treatment equipment and a laboratory to collate information that will increase our understanding and management of epilepsy. It may even help find scientifically proven approaches that are proactive and practical.

Importantly, those affected by epilepsy will now have access to better, more modern, medical facilities and treatment.

And, like the provision of other specialised health and medical services, it is Government’s ultimate intention to provide improved and effective services that ordinary Fijians can access and afford.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is my great pleasure to officiate at the commemoration of the inaugural International Epilepsy Day, to launch Epilepsy Fiji and to open the new electro-encephalo-graphy or EEG unit.

May God continue to Bless us all and Bless Fiji.

Vinaka vakalevu, Dhanyavaad, Sukria, Fai’eksia and Thank you.