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Jobless due to epilepsy

Many of Zimbabwe’s epileptic people are facing various forms of discrimination. Females particularly suffer the most.

45-year-old Melisa Jacha is not married, and she still lives at her parents’ home in Mufakose high density suburb. Despite completing university education, she has been unable to find a job. “Employers fear to employ me, and men also fear dating me because I’m epileptic,” says Jacha. 

Epilepsy is a chronic noncommunicable disease in which nerve cell activity in the brain is distressed, triggering violent body seizures. During a seizure, an epileptic person may experience abnormal behaviour, sometimes including loss of consciousness. 

But seizures usually only last for a few minutes, and they can be controlled. Up to 70 % of people living with epilepsy could become seizure free with the use of appropriate medicines. The Epilepsy Support Foundation, a non-governmental organisation that caters for epileptic individuals in Zimbabwe puts the number of epileptics at 320,000.

Belinda Muchenje is another epileptic woman, experiencing discrimination. “In my community and wherever I go, people just don’t understand epilepsy; they discriminate against me, and they don’t regard the condition as normal illness,” said Muchenje.

Muchenje speaks about the complications that epilepsy brings. “In relationships, men just don’t understand women with epilepsy and even children get disturbed when as a mother, you start having seizures. At work, employers can fire you because they don’t want to be held responsible for injuries one may sustain due to sudden seizures.” Muchenje says that many epileptic persons hide their condition so that they can keep their jobs for longer. 

Taurai Kadzviti, an advocacy officer at Epilepsy Support Foundation in Zimbabwe, says that “we have always known that epilepsy and anything or anyone associated with it has always been discriminated against, associated with witchcraft, evil spirits and everything bad.” Kadzviti adds: “It’s worse for women with epilepsy because by nature, they are despised in our local cultures, and they rarely get married.” 

But epileptic men also have their own share of discrimination owing to the disease. 37-year-old Donald Mangoma, a resident of Mabelreign low density suburb, says: “I was laid off from my job as a security guard. I was the only one retrenched because my bosses said they needed to create a conducive environment for me before they would invite me back, but it has now been two years since I was stopped from working.” Mangoma has been living with epilepsy for as long as he can remember.

The stigma against epileptics has been fuelled by some religious groups. Abel Hundonga, a preacher at one of the white-garment apostolic churches, has been making calls for worshippers with epilepsy from his church to see him in privacy for prayers. “Epilepsy comes from evil spirits. In my church we drive it away because it’s spiritual,” claims Hundonga. 

Jeffrey Moyo is a journalist based in Harare.


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