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The time for global action is now – the WHO IGAP

Prof Helen Cross

Professor J Helen Cross OBE

Epilepsy Research UK President President of the International League Against Epilepsy

- Tipping Point
- The time for global action is now – the WHO IGAP

Date Published: May 19, 2022

Author: James Matejka

A report will soon be put before the World Health Assembly which has the potential to bring about real change in policy and practise around the world. The report – the World Health Organization (WHO) Intersectoral Global Action Plan (IGAP) on Epilepsy and Other Neurological Disorders will undergo the final stage of the approval process this spring. Epilepsy Research UK President Professor J Helen Cross OBE is the President of the International League Against Epilepsy, the global organisation for professionals involved in the care of epilepsy, who with their partner patient organisation the International Bureau for Epilepsy played an important role in the development of the WHO IGAP. In this Research Blog, Professor Cross will explain how important the IGAP will be for people affected by epilepsy and for epilepsy research globally.

For people living with epilepsy, the condition has a lifelong impact, not just on patients but on their families and support networks. For epilepsy clinicians, diagnosing, treating, and managing a person’s epilepsy and associated conditions is not always straightforward. This is not just the case for my colleagues and I in the UK, but for epilepsy healthcare professionals and people affected by the condition around the world, and particularly so in less developed countries.

Epilepsy has been critically and chronically neglected, and there is an urgent need for global action. This is why I am so pleased that the WHO IGAP is so close to approval, to not only address challenges in providing epilepsy care around the world but most importantly to challenge governments to prioritise the care of people living with this condition. As part of the strategic initiatives outlined in the report, there are a number of recommendations for research initiatives to foster research and innovation and strengthen information systems. This will undoubtedly raise the profile of epilepsy, and of the vital role of research. 

What is the IGAP and why was it drafted?

In November 2020, the World Health Assembly (WHA) adopted the proposal of the WHO to develop an IGAP to address the shortfalls and challenges in health services for people living with epilepsy and other neurological conditions. The IGAP will cover a 10-year period from 2022-31 and will build on existing global resolutions, commitments and reports which have previously highlighted challenges presented by epilepsy. This is the first time that epilepsy and other neurological disorders have been recognised as a distinct field by the WHO, representing a unique opportunity for changes to policy and practice that will undoubtedly inform future research into epilepsy and brain health. 

How will the IGAP bring about change 

The IGAP aims to reduce the stigma, impact and burden of epilepsy and other neurological disorders, including associated mortality, morbidity and disability. It also seeks to improve the quality of life for people of all ages with neurological disorders as well as promoting brain health and development.   

Once the IGAP has been agreed, governments around the world will be tasked with responding to the recommendations, potentially bringing about real change in policy and practice whilst raising awareness of epilepsy internationally. Importantly, there will also be implications for future research as the IGAP will highlight the ongoing need for research into epilepsy and other neurological conditions. 

What does the IGAP mean for future research into epilepsy? 

The IGAP will outline priorities which will help to influence and shape research into epilepsy. Some of the key research recommendations which were presented in the draft IGAP released earlier this year, are summarised below. In my view, an important aspect of these recommendations is that they focus not on specific aspects of epilepsy, but on significant systematic changes – increased research investment, national and international collaborations, and strengthened research infrastructure, to name a few. Imperative to this, the WHO have recognised the involvement of people living with and affected by the condition.  

This is something Epilepsy Research UK is already pioneering, through the Shape Epilepsy Research Network and UK Epilepsy Priority Setting Partnership and through the development of a national epilepsy research collaborative and patient led campaign announced this week.  This programme of work will demand the government commits to a research investment of £100 for everyone living with epilepsy in the UK – that’s £100 for every 1 in 100 and £60 million in total. The campaign – #Every1EndingEpilepsy – will raise awareness of the impact of epilepsy and demonstrate how by working collaboratively we will bring about a radical change within a generation. You can watch the campaign launch video below.  

The WHO IGAP for Epilepsy and Other Neurological Conditions is a long-overdue step in putting epilepsy firmly on the agendas of governments around the world. But this is merely the beginning. Together, with the recent publication of the updated NICE Guidelines for Epilepsy, and the upcoming publication of the UK Epilepsy PSP, we are at a tipping point. The evidence is mounting – there has never been a more compelling argument for much needed investment in research into epilepsy. The time is now for everyone to come together to end epilepsy. #Every1EndingEpilepsy 

 Read more about the #Every1EndingEpilepsy campaign.

-Professor J Helen Cross OBE

– an integral part of the national response to address the burden of neurological disorders is to increase investment and improve research governance

support national, regional and international research collaborations in order to generate new knowledge and translate existing evidence into action, as well as encourage the sharing of and open access to research data

build the knowledge and capacity of decision-makers on the need for innovation and highlight the importance of prioritizing funding for neurological conditions, such as epilepsy

improve research infrastructure to strengthen national research and innovation

involve and support people affected by neurological conditions, including their carers and families, in actively participating in the research process from planning to implementation