Statement From Dr. Howard Koh, Assistant Secretary For Health, Regarding National Epilepsy Awareness Month

National Epilepsy Awareness Month in November is an opportunity to improve public understanding about a condition described for many centuries but still poorly understood. More than 2 million people in the United States have epilepsy, with about 150,000 developing the condition each year. New cases of epilepsy are most common among children and adults older than 65.

Epilepsy actually represents a group of diseases with a broad spectrum of presentations and severity. Symptoms can range from a momentary disruption of the senses, to short periods of unconsciousness or staring spells, to frank convulsions. While for some, epilepsy can be well managed, for too many, optimal management is elusive, leading to devastating consequences.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has addressed epilepsy for many years. In particular, HHS agencies promote diverse programs to support people with epilepsy and their families, including:

- The National Institutes of Health, which supports basic biomedical research;

- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which conducts epidemiological research along with campaigns to raise public awareness and education;

- The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, which oversees patient-centered outcomes research regarding the efficacy, safety and tolerability of antiepileptic treatments;

- The Food and Drug Administration, which ensures the safety and effectiveness of drugs that improve the health of people living with epilepsy in the United States;

- The Health Resources and Services Administration, which funds a national program to improve access to comprehensive, coordinated health care for children and youth with epilepsy who live in medically underserved areas; and

- The Administration on Children and Families, which supports the University Centers of Excellence in Developmental Disabilities Education, Research and Services program, including three with projects focusing on young people with epilepsy.

Recently, we convened experts from across the Department to integrate our efforts and reinvigorate the public health response to this disease. As a result, HHS has now partnered with a coalition of epilepsy scientific and advocacy organizations- to commission a landmark Institute of Medicine study on the public health dimensions of epilepsy. The study will recommend national priorities and strategies for improving the lives of those with epilepsy with respect to dimensions of health care, human services, health literacy, public awareness, and public health.

We would like to thank our partners - both governmental and private sector - who are working tirelessly to educate the public and to improve the quality of life for people with epilepsy. We hope that improved understanding among the general population can lead to more research, better health for those affected and the end of the emotional isolation suffered by too many.

I urge all of you to learn more about epilepsy and support efforts to treat and ultimately cure this condition.


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