Mental health

The Myanmar Epilepsy Initiative is paving the way for sustainable treatment

Myat Thida, a bright 9th grade student, was studying for an important exam. She was hoping to be selected as outstanding student of Hmawbi Township, Myanmar. But she never took the exam because that evening she had her first seizure. From then on, seizures came on more frequently. In the next few years, she couldn’t concentrate on her studies because of her frequent seizures and her grades fell so much that she was unable to finish her high school education.

San Oo


Her father, a retired military personnel, took Myat Thida to the Defense Services Military Hospital where she was diagnosed with epilepsy and prescribed anti-epileptic medicines. This was good news, because almost a quarter of people who take their anti-epileptic medicines daily for two to three years can subsequently live a seizure-free, normal life.

Unfortunately, Myat Thida did not take her medications regularly and her seizures continued. Her family believed evil spirits might be causing the seizures so they brought her to a Shaman and tried treatments proposed by several traditional healers, to no avail. Her family also thought her seizures were caused by having heavy meals in the evening, and eating beef during onset of her menses. Despite their efforts including diet restrictions, her seizures continued. One day, she had a seizure while cooking and burnt herself. As she got older, her speech became impaired and she developed an abnormal shuffling gait.

Myat Thida is now 44 years old. She is no longer able to live an independent, productive life. Her father must keep an eye on her at all times. Although she can bathe and eat by herself, everything has to be prepared for her.

Her father is her sole caregiver. He is pleased that the Hmawbi Township is participating in the Myanmar Epilepsy Initiative, part of the WHO Programme on Reducing the Epilepsy Treatment Gap, because he can now obtain anti-epileptic medicine close to his home.

The Myanmar Epilepsy Initiative has already begun putting in place mechanisms for sustainable solutions. To ensure the availability of anti-epileptic medicines after the end of the project, it has reached an agreement with the Ministry of Health in Myanmar and the country’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA), about the short-term importation of the anti-epileptic medicine phenobarbital and the long-term possibility of producing it locally.

Thanks to the sustainable availability of anti-epileptic medicines, hundreds of thousands of people with epilepsy in Myanmar will be able to live normal, productive lives. And Myat Thida’s father will be able to ensure his daughter remains seizure free, increasing her chances of a longer, happier life.

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