The effect of Covid-19  to children with epilepsy

21Jul 2022
Jenifer Gilla
The Guardian
The effect of Covid-19  to children with epilepsy

IT is three o'clock in the afternoon when 29-year old Latifa Iddy wakes up from her nap and looks at her three-year-old son who is sleeping beside her. Panic-stricken she shouts for her mom "Mama! Mama! come quickly,the baby is convulsing again!"

It is the third time that Baby Nayar has gone into convulsion since he caught a fever a few days ago.

Diagnosed as an epileptic when he was just six months old, his mother Latifa is grateful that her mother is on hand to help.

The frequency of the convulsions has meant that Latifa is unable to go to work as she dares not leave her son unattended. 

This time around, Latifa and her mother go to Muhimbili National Hospital where Nayar has been attending the children’s clinic.

There are four other women whose children are epileptic and who have brought their children for treatment.“The doctor told us that the cause of the frequent epileptic attacks is a high fever that is currently around. He says that fever is a big problem for epilepsy patients," Latifa explains.

Thirty four year old Fides Uiso cradles her five year old daughter. The little girl had suffered several convulsions after she got a cold a few days earlier.

"She had a high fever for three days in a row, the last day she had convulsions in the morning and evening and on the fourth day also in the morning. This is really worrying as l  think the disease has become chronic. That is why I brought her to hospital today," explains Fides.

Neurosurgery Specialist in Children's Hospital of Muhimbili National Hospital (MNH), Dr. Edward Kija , said he noted an increase in the number of children with controlled epilepsy who were brought to hospital because of frequent convulsions since the pandemic started.

"Usually a patient with epilepsy who takes medication as prescribed will not suffer from convulsions. Convulsions can be controlled. But if a patient has a viral infection such as a fever then this can trigger convulsions. However, most of them are ok once they take their medications”.

"Since the onset of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) we have seen an increase in the number of children with epilepsy being brought into the hospital because they are suffering from multiple convulsions. These children also present high fevers and colds,” explained Dr Kije. How they treated it

The expert says that they were prescribing the patient to find  causes of the sickness for further treatment.

"We test the patient to see what causes the convulsions. When the results show that the patient has a fever or cold we administer medicine and thank God we got good results," he says.

He says after suspecting that the problem could be caused by the Covid -19 they educated  parents on the relationship between the virus and epilepsy so that they could take precautions.

RUNNING FROM THE CLINIC

Dr. Kija says they were unable to follow up with some patients because many stopped attending clinics  worrying that their children  might get covid-19 infection, the situation stopped after educating them on the importance of attending clinic especially during the pandemic and also how to take precautions.

"We had the challenge of patients not attending clinics for fear of getting covid infection, this led to children not receiving timely treatment and some of them were overwhelmed at home " he says.

Asnath Mashiwa, the mother of a two-year-old girl, says at first she did not take her child to the clinic because  she was scared her child could be infected  due to population. She believed she could end her child's life by taking her to the hospital or by not giving her medicine and leaving her at home but she chose to stay at home because of the high risk she saw when she went to the hospital for treatment.

“But one of the parents called and educated me about the risk of not taking my child to the clinic, that she might have a problem that could worsen her illness that only a doctor would treat. She also informed me about the change of the clinic time table attendance and that now we will be attending once per three months, since the child were not sick I went to take the medicine alone,” she says

Dr .Kija also said if a child who has epilepsy skips taking the medicine  will get severe convulsions which damages a part of the brain that affects functioning of parts of his body.

"If a child with epilepsy does not take medication on time or is delayed, he or she will experience recurrent convulsions that affect the brain,” explained Dr Kija.

 Infection control

Dr. Kija said they made efforts to prevent coronavirus infections   by providing long-term medication to reduce congestion in hospitals.

"Those who’s epilepsy were in control were given long term medicines up to three months and we told them to come to the hospital only if the baby got sick or otherwise. We reduced the number of patients we see from 70 to 20 a day," he says,

For those who were afraid to come to take medicine they used alternative methods to persuade them to attend the clinic by calling and educating them on taking all precautions such as hand washing and wearing masks.

The specialist says the second group is those patients who have convulsions that are in danger and need to see a specialist every day for treatment.

The doctor goes on to explain that, the number  of this kind of patients to attend clinics also decreased due to fear of being affected although he did not give statistics.

What about Covid -19 vaccine?

According to Dr. Kije, so far they have not started giving Covid -19 vaccines to children with epilepsy as research is still underway in the country to  prove that a child under 12 can get the vaccine.

According to the International League Against Epilepsy there is no evidence that epilepsy contributes to the emergence of negative effects due to the COVID-19 vaccine, especially increased shock. But, as with other vaccines, colds  can break out after receiving the vaccine.

The institute reports that the flu could increase the incidence of falls in some epileptic patients. However, if they take medicines such as Paracetamol acetaminophen for up to 48 hours after vaccination or for the entire duration of the flu, this risk is reduced.

Challenges for parents

Some parents stated that  they were not only afraid to take their children to the hospital for fear of corona infection but also for their personal activities.

Latifa explains that it came at a time when she was afraid to go to work for fear that she might get an infection and infect her child, a situation that put her job at risk.

"There was a time when I asked for two weeks' leave to check on the baby's condition but the goal was to avoid getting an infection because the baby was getting convulsions every day and I was the only one going out to work and I felt maybe I was the one affecting the baby," she says.

Athnati John (35), decided to close her mama lishe food business for the same reason. She did not want to expose her child who has epilepsy to the coronavirus as many of her clients were not taking precautions. She lost all her customers and now has to start her business all over again.

"I stayed away for three months and my customers all moved away to another mama lishe. Now I am back but I am now selling seasonal fruit," she says.

For  Latifa, Athnati, the news that the US was already rolling out vaccines for children brings her no hope that they can protect their children from the virus. They, like many others in her community, are yet to access the vaccine and until they do so, they have to continue taking the precautions they are taking to protect their vulnerable children.

In the process, their livelihoods are threatened which has a domino effect in terms of their ability to continue taking these precautions. Early this month, the government launched a Tsh58bn (USD25 million) campaign, aimed at increasing vaccine uptake and access in the country. It is anticipated that the initiative will help the government accomplish its goal of vaccinating 70 percent of eligible people by December this year, up from the current 15 percent vaccinated. This time round, Latifa, Athnati hope they can access the vaccine.

 

This article was produced with support from the Africa Women’s Journalism Project (AWJP) in partnership with The ONE Campaign and the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ).

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