Impact of COVID-19 on the wellbeing of children with epilepsy including Nodding Syndrome in Uganda: A qualitative study

Article Authors: Denis Nono, Nolbert Gumisiriza, Christopher Tumwine , Luis Amaral, Herbert E. Ainamani, Seggane Musisi, Robert Colebunder

Abstract

Objective

To investigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions on the access and use of health services by children with epilepsy including nodding syndrome in Uganda.

Methods

Four focus group discussions (FGD) with parents/caregivers of children with epilepsy and five in-depth interviews with key informants were conducted between April and May 2021 at Butabika National Mental Referral Hospital and Kitgum General Hospital.

Results

COVID-19-related restrictions, including the halting of non-essential services and activities, and suspension of public transport, created several challenges not only for children with epilepsy and their parents/caregivers but also for their healthcare providers. Study participants described extreme transport restrictions that reduced their access to health care services, increased food insecurity and shortage or inability to afford essential medicines as consequences of COVID-19-related restrictions. However, parents/caregivers and healthcare workers adopted several coping strategies for these challenges. Parents/caregivers mentioned taking on casual work to earn an income to buy food, medicines and other necessities. Healthcare workers intensified outreach services to affected communities. A positive impact of lockdown measures described by some FGD participants was that most family members stayed at home and were able to care for children with epilepsy in turn.

Conclusions

Our study highlights the significant negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions on access to health services and the general wellbeing of children with epilepsy. Decentralised epilepsy treatment services and nutritional support could reduce the suffering of children with epilepsy and their families during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and similar future emergencies.

Keywords

Epilepsy nodding syndrome, COVID-19, wellbeing, lockdown, Focus group , discussions, Uganda

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