Community Update

World Pulse Toolkits Available!

At World Pulse, we recognize the need for ongoing learning—for you and for your community! Our toolkits are all available here.

We are especially excited to share our signature Citizen Journalism and Digital Empowerment Curriculum. Start learning today!

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.”

This story was written for World Pulse’s Ending Violence Against Women Digital Action Campaign.

World Pulse believes that women's stories, recommendations, and collective rising leadership can—and will—bring an end to gender-based violence. The EVAW Campaign elicits powerful content from women on the ground, strengthens their confidence as vocal grassroots leaders, and ensures that influencers and powerful institutions hear their stories.
Learn more »

Comments

Leina's picture

Dear Marvel

Thank you for sharing this important story!These women need education about their condition.They need help in ensuring access to medicinal facilities.You have done a great job by exposing their plight!
keep up the good work!
Leina

chei marvel's picture

thnks Leina, there is hope

thnks Leina, there is hope that as this issue is exposed there shall be a way forward for these women and girls. we are preparing to carry out training sessions for these group of people in Bafut.we believe that this will
go a long way to improve on the present situation.

Marvel

Sharese's picture

Fascinating!

Wow! Thank you for sharing this information. It sounds much like the myth that having sex with young virgins will cure one of HIV. What is being done now in the community to stop the spread of these rumors?? Is there something being done by women in the community? I think also that the men that are engaging in this sex and stating that they "cure" young women should be prosecuted! That is coercion no doubt.

My husband is from Cameroon, so I am always interested in what is going on in that part of the world, especially.

Again that you for sharing! Please keep the updates coming!

In Peace,

Sharese

chei marvel's picture

for now the most we are

for now the most we are engaging in is absolute sensitization and trying as much to make available the Anti Epileptic Drugs in the local health centres. such myths exists because of the abject ignorance existing in these areas. I strongly believe that as more attention is focused on this issue, it will soon be a thing of the past.
thnks Sharese as we stay heartily connected

Marvel

Beverly Rose's picture

unbelievable

Thank you for posting this story, unbelievable though it is. Another form of violence against women! The various forms that it takes never ceases to amaze me. I agree with you - that focusing more attention on this issue - will help eliminate it. Thank you for your efforts in bringing this to light. And continue your sharing of information from your part of the globe to ours!

In peace,
Beverly

chei marvel's picture

yeah Beverly women are

yeah Beverly women are violated in various forms all over the globe. In unity and determination we shall diagnose our problems and solve them. thanks for the kind words.

Marvel

irmia's picture

Thank you for sharing this valuable story

I don't know what to say, except keep on fighting! This false knowledge must be banished as it harms women/girls. Really, it's hard for me to imagine that a woman/girl must have sex with several men just want to be cured.

I know it's hard but I'm with you :)

Mia

LauraB's picture

Keep writing

Chei,

Education is the key along with correct medication. With the voice of yourself and others fueled with the facts, this myth can be eliminated and women in Cameroon can live symptom free.

It's really important that you tell this story - it's a shock - and it can be stopped.

Best,

Laura

chei marvel's picture

Thnks for your contribution

Thnks for your contribution Mia. All I can comfotably contirbute now is to fight and eradicate such beliefs.
I agree with you Laura! my deepest joy will be to enjoy a society void of such malpractices and i strongly know that the nearest future holds a better story for women and girls

Marvel

Takong Delvis's picture

Worst Myths even exist

Thanks Marvel for taking your time to share this information to the world. The myths about epilepsy in Cameroon seem to outweigh those around the world. This fight has to continue, absolute sensitization has to be carried out in the North West region of Cameroon where the conditions of epileptics are worst, especially in Momo Division. My organization "Cameroon Epilepsy Foundation" has been trying it's best to reduce the myths. More about the myths of epilepsy in Cameroon can be seen here http://www.camepilepsyfdtn.org/index.php It's so sad and hear-pounding to hear how ignorant people are about a normal illness like epilepsy. Keep the good works, spread the word and lets fight the stigma.Just a click here http://www.camepilepsyfdtn.org/my-story.php

Magazine »

Read global coverage through women's eyes

Letters to a Better World

Letters to a Better World

Community »

Connect with women on the ground worldwide

shazia @ shiree's picture

BANGLADESH: Finding Fatima

Campaigns »

Be heard at influential forums

WWW: Women Weave the Web

WWW: Women Weave the Web

Programs »

Help us train women citizen journalists

World Pulse Voices of Our Future

World Pulse Voices of Our Future

Blog »

Read the latest from World Pulse headquarters

The Women of World Pulse LIVE: Meet Olanike

The Women of World Pulse LIVE: Meet Olanike

Partners »

Join forces with our wide network of partners

Nobel Women's Initiative

Nobel Women's Initiative