Saturday, February 2, 2008

Singapore 2007 - 27th International Epilepsy Congress

The day was 07.07.07. I was on my way to Suntec Singapore International Convention & Exhibition Centre to attend a symposium for People With Epilepsy (PWE) and their Carers. I was filled with anticipation of good news for PWE and also enthusiastic to meet up with my foreign PWE friends.

There must be close to two hundred PWE and carers in the symposium. Delegates came from Austria, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, India, Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Argentina, Mongolia, New Zealand, Ireland and Singapore. Talks were given about epilepsy in relation to children, education, employment, driving and family/marital relationships.

Delegates of the Epilepsy Symposium

I found topics on employment and driving very debatable and interesting. Many positive changes could be achieved with parties like Epilepsy Societies, government bodies and private corporate sectors working together to enhance the quality of PWE’s lives. Mr Michael of Austria stole the limelight throughout the syposium talks. He asked questions that threw most of us into deep thoughts. Two Indian delegates gave a power point presentation of their local epilepsy society and its people behind its role and commitment towards educating people about epilepsy. I was most taken by the " Epilepsy Street Plays" carried out at public areas like outdoor market places, parks, and shopping areas where the Indians had crowds of people gather round them to watch live demonstrations on how a PWE ought to be handled in the right ways when in a state of seizure.

After a long day of talks, question and answer sessions the symposium ended with an informal dinner. All delegates congratulated the organisers for the successful event and looked forward to meeting up again in the near future.

Myself sitted on the right with Hong Kong and Singapore delegates

On the next day of the symposium, I had the opportunity to catch up with my Filipino friends, Rose and Jeanne. Rose updated me with the progress of her epilepsy awareness work in Iloilo, a province in Philippines. She educates public transport drivers, people working in banks and shopping malls about epilepsy and ways to help PWE during seizures. Stickers with the message “Epilepsy Friendly Vehicle” and “Epilepsy Friendly Bank/Shopping Mall” were placed on public and private vehicles as well as on entrances of banks and shopping malls.

Jeanne voiced out her disappointment of having to pay all expenses on her own to be able to turn up at the symposium. “How is it that drug companies can fully sponsor doctors to attend such events and not able to do the same for PWE attached to Epilepsy Societies? We are the ones lobbying out front for PWE rights and no neurologists can understand our needs to fight for equalities in life” echoed Jeanne. I agree with my friends.

Myself at the centre. Rose on the right and Jeanne second from the right

People with epilepsy should always make themselves seen and be accepted by society as normal people. Many PWE are easily withdrawn into the confines of their homes. This is a result of how society view and discriminate them. All of us need friends apart from family members and relatives to interact with. Social interaction can pose a great problem for PWE. We yearn to be accepted as a normal integral part of society where rejections and discriminations do not exist.

The last day of the epilepsy congress came. All of us bade farewell to each other. It saddened me to shake hand with one of our Singapore PWE friend. He was close to tears and heavy hearted to see us leave the convention centre. He wished we could stay longer and be his very good friends. I will always remember him. My friends and I will be in touch with him through email.

"Start emerging from your shadows if you are still hiding behind it. Take part actively in talks, seminars, congresses concerning epilepsy. Life is beautiful if you know how to live it. Do not let epilepsy be a stumbling block in your lives. Remember that failures and challenges only make a person stronger at the end of the day."

With some delegates at the Singapore Epilepsy Society's thrift shop

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