Epilepsy Myth Leads to High Rates of Promiscuity Amongst Young Girls In Cameroon
Sirri Elizabeth, 29 years old, an epileptic got pregnant at the age of 15 because she was told that frequent sex is a cure to epilepsy. Epilepsy is an unprovoked brain disorder that causes people to have recurring seizures over time and is believed to be a spiritual problem in most areas of Cameroon.
Elizabeth who grew up with her parents in a small village called Bafut in Northwestern Cameroon began experiencing frequent seizures or fits at the age of 12. Her relatives told her parents that she is a cursed child and has been bewitched. The recurring seizures which became more and more frequent caused her to drop out of school because she became an outcast among her peers. She stopped going to public places for fear of being caught in another fit.
“One Sunday afternoon I overheard my aunt telling my mother that if I had had sex with men, the spell on me will be broken,” Elizabeth said.
“My mother squeezed her mouth as a sign for her to keep quiet and turned around to check if anyone overheard them,” she added.
Few days later Elizabeth’s mother summoned her into the bedroom and asked if a man had ever made love to her. She said she could immediately guess what was awaiting her. Shy, Elizabeth changed the topic since discussing sex is still a taboo in many African communities.
“But my mother persisted and told me that there is a particular man who can cure the epilepsy in me but only after I must have had sex with him,” Elizabeth said sobbingly.
Convinced by her mother that though the idea was a difficult one, it was as well the only available cure, Elizabeth set out in search of her ‘miracle man.’
My discussion with Elizabeth went on smoothly till at this point where I noticed that she wasn’t as fluent as she had been. She smiled more often and frequently sighed.
“At the age of 20 I had slept with over 15 men,” she said with eyes focused to the ground.
Then there was a long silence. She shook her head in regret and told me that right now she has five children with different fathers and can barely cater for their needs.
She has learned to live a secluded life and disassociates from public activities. During one of her lonely seizures in her kitchen, she fell into the hearth where there was a pot of soup cooking, and with no one by her, she incurred a severe burns leaving one of her legs deformed.
Her case is not different from that of many young girls in the Bafut community.
In another small village called Akossia, not too far from Bafut, almost every home has at least one epileptic case.
Here, teenage girls undergo seizures during child birth and die.
According to the Mayo foundation for Medical Education and Research Clinic - a not- for -profit research group which is specialized in treating difficult cases, before a young woman conceives, it is advisable for her to schedule an appointment with the health care provider who will be handling the pregnancy. It is also necessary for the patient to meet with other members of her health care team, such as a family doctor or neurologist. They will evaluate how well the epilepsy is being managed and consider any changes treatment that might be needed before pregnancy begins.
Medical checks are encouraged because research from the Mayo Foundation for Medical and Research Clinic have proven that women who have epilepsy face a higher risk of pregnancy-related complications like anemia, premature separation of the placenta from the uterus, high blood pressure and excess protein in the urine after 20 weeks of pregnancy, premature birth, a low birth weight baby, failure to progress during labor and delivery, babies with congenital anomalies and all these have a negative effect to mother and unborn child.
Mama Nchang Loveline, a 43 year old farmer in Akossia village told me that her 14years old daughter who was epileptic died when she was in labor. She got pregnant in the course of searching for the man who was in possession of her healing. She said that her daughter was in labor for three days continually and on the third day, she had a seizure and died.
“I can’t explain the pain I felt when I held Laura’s corpse in my arms,” Nchang said.
Madam Bih Sylvia who used to be a midwife at the Bamenda Regional Hospital in Northwestern Cameroon says that some women with epilepsy have more seizures when they are pregnant. She also says that this can be because of poor seizure control prior to pregnancy. Failure to take anti-epileptic medication as prescribed, lack of sleep or changes in the metabolism of anti-epileptic drugs caused by pregnancy are other causes of recurrent seizures.
Most young girls who engage in child bearing in the course of getting rid of epilepsy can barely cater for their children.
Mr Nji who has two epileptic sons told me how one of his neighbours who was a teenage epileptic mother had a seizure in the stream and got drowned with her baby.
Mr Nsom Kenneth, a coordinator of the Community Development and Epilepsy Foundation (CODEF) with head quarters in Bafut told me that he was inspired to set up this foundation after he noticed deadly cases of epilepsy in the area.
“I am currently running a serious campaign against the ‘sex myth’ which has greatly turned our epileptic teenage girls and women promiscuous,” Mr Nsom said.
He pointed out that epilepsy is not what many people take it to be, especially with the availability of anti-epileptic drugs to control recurring seizures. He also added that some people go as far as believing that when searching for the ‘miracle man’, contraceptives are not needed.
“Imagine how widely HIV/AIDS and other STDs are transmitted,” Nsom regretted.
Meanwhile, Mark S. Yerby in an Information Pamphlet for Women with Epilepsy writes:
“Keeping an accurate record or calendar of your seizure frequency and medication intake can be helpful to both you and your physician. Such a record can not only help you remember to take your anti-epileptic drugs, it can also help your physician better evaluate and anticipate the AED levels in your blood.”