Stakeholder views of the practical and cultural barriers to epilepsy care in Uganda

Epilepsy Behav. 2021 Jan;114(Pt B):107314. doi: 10.1016/j.yebeh.2020.107314. Epub 2020 Aug 3.


Objective: Epilepsy is one of the most prevalent, treatable neurological diseases globally. In sub-Saharan Africa, people with epilepsy (PWE) frequently seek treatment from traditional or pastoral healers, who are more accessible than biomedical care providers. This often contributes to the substantial time delay in obtaining adequate biomedical care for these patients. In Uganda, the few biomedical providers who can treat epilepsy cannot meet the great need for epilepsy care. Additionally, patients are often hesitant to seek biomedical care, often preferring the easily accessible and trusted sociocultural treatment options. This study sought to elucidate the barriers to biomedical care for PWE as well as identify potential solutions to overcome these barriers from various stakeholder perspectives.

Methods: This study used qualitative research methods. Semistructured interviews and focus group discussions were conducted with four major stakeholder groups: PWE or family members of PWE, neurologists and psychiatrists, traditional healers, and pastoral healers. All interviews and focus group discussions that were in English were audio recorded and transcribed verbatim. Those that were not in English were translated live and audio recorded. A translator later translated the non-English portion of audio recording to ensure proper interpretation. Two independent coders coded the dataset and conducted an inter-rater reliability (IRR) assessment to ensure reliable coding of the data. Thematic analysis was then performed to discern themes from the data and compare nuances between each of the study design groups.

Results: Participants discussed several different causes of epilepsy ranging from spiritual to biological causes, often incorporating elements of both. Commonly endorsed spiritual causes of epilepsy included witchcraft and ancestral spirits. Commonly endorsed biological causes included genetics, fever, malaria, and brain injury. For patients and families, beliefs about the cause of epilepsy often played a role in whom they chose to seek treatment from. Three major barriers to biomedical care were discussed: practical barriers, medical infrastructure barriers, and barriers related to stigma. Practical barriers related to issues such as transportation, cost of medical care, and distance to the nearest healthcare facility. Under medical infrastructure, drug stock-outs and lack of access to antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) were the most consistent problems stated among patients. Stigma was heavily discussed and brought up by nearly every participant. Additionally, three significant solutions to improving epilepsy care in Uganda were highlighted by participants: collaboration among treatment providers, community sensitization efforts to address stigma, and building medical infrastructure. Within building infrastructure, all participant types, except traditional healers, proposed the development of an epilepsy clinic designed to specifically treat epilepsy.

Conclusions: Based on these findings, there are four critical interventions that should be considered for improving epilepsy care in Uganda: the creation of dedicated epilepsy clinics, infrastructure strengthening to address medication stock-outs, community outreach programs for sensitization, and collaboration between biomedical providers and traditional healers. This article is part of the Special Issue "The Intersection of Culture, Resources, and Disease: Epilepsy Care in Uganda".

Keywords: Biomedicine; Culture; Epilepsy; Pastoral healers; Traditional healers; Uganda.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Epilepsy* / therapy
  • Focus Groups
  • Humans
  • Qualitative Research
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Uganda