In pursuit of a cure: the plural therapeutic landscape of onchocerciasis-associated epilepsy in Cameroon - a mixed methods study

Maya Ronse, Julia Irani, Charlotte Gryseels, Tom Smekens, Serge Ekukole, Caroline Teh Monteh, Peter Tatah Ntaimah, Susan Dierickx, Kristien Verdonck, Robert Colebunders, Alfred K Njamnshi, Sarah O'Neill, Koen Peeters Grietens

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BACKGROUND: A high prevalence of epilepsy has been observed in several onchocerciasis-endemic villages in the Sanaga River basin, Cameroon. Recent studies suggest that ivermectin, a drug that is distributed annually with the aim of eliminating onchocerciasis, may have a protective effect against acquiring onchocerciasis-associated epilepsy (OAE). This study, therefore, provides an in-depth understanding of both the complex therapeutic landscape for epilepsy as well as the experiences related to the 'community-directed treatment with ivermectin' (CDTI) campaign in order to identify a more trenchant path forward in the fight against epilepsy.

METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: Based on a mixed methods study combining a qualitative strand with a quantitative survey, we found that epilepsy was perceived to have had an epidemic emergence in the past and was still considered an important health issue in the study area. Socio-economic status, availability and accessibility of drugs and practitioners, as well as perceived aetiology shaped therapeutic itineraries for epilepsy, which included frequenting (in)formal biomedical health care providers, indigenous and/or faith healing practitioners. Ivermectin uptake for onchocerciasis was generally well known and well regarded. The CDTI faced structural and logistical bottlenecks undermining equal access and optimal adherence to the drug.

CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE: Locally accessible, uninterrupted, sustainable and comprehensive health-service delivery is essential to help alleviate the epilepsy burden on afflicted households. Addressing structural challenges of CDTI and communicating the potential link with epilepsy to local populations at risk could optimize the uptake of this potentially significant tool in OAE prevention.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0009206
JournalPLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases
Issue number2
Number of pages26
Publication statusPublished - 2021


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