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BACKGROUND: Epilepsy is one of the most common neurological conditions globally, estimated to constitute 0.75% of the global burden of disease, with the majority of this burden found in low- and middle- income countries (LMICs). Few studies from LMICs, including much of sub-Saharan Africa, have described the incidence, remission or mortality rates due to epilepsy, which are needed to quantify the burden and inform policy. This study investigates the epidemiological parameters of convulsive epilepsy within a context of high HIV prevalence and an emerging burden of cardiovascular disease. METHODS: A cross-sectional population survey of 82,818 individuals, in the Agincourt Health and Socio-demographic Surveillance Site (HDSS) in rural northeast South Africa was conducted in 2008, from which 296 people were identified with active convulsive epilepsy. A follow-up survey was conducted in 2012. Incidence and mortality rates were estimated, with duration and remission rates calculated using the DISMOD II software package. RESULTS: The crude incidence for convulsive epilepsy was 17.4/100,000 per year (95%CI: 13.1-23.0). Remission was 4.6% and 3.9% per year for males and females, respectively. The standardized mortality ratio was 2.6 (95%CI: 1.7-3.5), with 33.3% of deaths directly related to epilepsy. Mortality was higher in men than women (adjusted rate ratio (aRR) 2.6 (95%CI: 1.2-5.4)), and was significantly associated with older ages (50+ years versus those 0-5 years old (RR 4.8 (95%CI: 0.6-36.4)). CONCLUSIONS: The crude incidence was lower whilst mortality rates were similar to other African studies; however, this study found higher mortality amongst older males. Efforts aimed at further understanding what causes epilepsy in older people and developing interventions to reduce prolonged seizures are likely to reduce the overall burden of ACE in rural South Africa.

Original publication




Journal article


PLoS One

Publication Date





Adolescent, Adult, Cause of Death, Child, Cross-Sectional Studies, Epilepsy, Female, Humans, Incidence, Male, Mortality, Population Surveillance, Risk Factors, Rural Population, South Africa, Young Adult