The diseases called Alzheimer and dementia is still not well known in Africa. As a matter of fact even some medical doctors in Africa know very little, if any at all about these diseases.

According to the Journal of Global health, Edinburgh University Global Health Society, and I quote “the burden of non-communicable diseases is growing particularly in the developing world. The greatest economic burden in these countries is dementia, the prevalence of which is rising with increase in longevity.”

In Africa, because of the lack of awareness of these diseases and the impact associated with it thereof on the people, dementia sufferers are normally thought to be suffering from old age and nothing else. In the most extreme cases when the sufferers’ conditions deteriorate for luck of diagnosis and care, these people are eventually labelled as witches and wizard.

Again, according to the Journal of Global health, “the overall prevalence of dementia in adults older than 50 years in Africa was estimated to be about 2.4% which translate to 2.76 million people living with a disease in 2010 and that about 2.10 million of them live in Sub-Saharan Africa.”

The onset of dementia often begins with symptoms like memory loss, disorientation, behavioural changes, paranoia, disorganization and many others. When an old lady or old man with memory loss begins to show these signs and cannot even remember what happened an hour earlier but is able to remember things that happened a long time ago, people who are supposed to help and protect them shun, label and treat them as witches and wizards. Some of these old people get so disoriented sometimes in the middle of the night. And with no one to help them, some wonder out into the night regard less of the temperature , walking many miles away from their homes and sometimes even wonder to other villages. And when they are found the next day, sometimes naked, the immediate conclusion is that, he or she is a wizard or witch who went out to practice witchcraft and got lost. They are then subjected to beatings and other inhuman treatment. In the course of these mistreatment, they become even more disoriented, disorganized and very agitated, all of which are signs and symptoms of dementia, but misconstrued as signs  of witchcraft by their accusers.

What is so disturbing about these statistics is that majority of the sufferers of dementia are poor old women who have no way of defending or taking care of themselves. Dementia is a disease that takes the human dignity away. Imagine being unable to recognize your own children or even remember their names. Imagine being unable to locate your own house when you go out. Imagine the frustration you would feel when people so close to you fail to recognize that you have a problem and that you are sick and need help. Imagine being called a witch or wizard because people do not know anything about dementia and that you are suffering from it. That is how helpless people with dementia are in many African countries.

Until and unless governments rise to their responsibilities in the fight against this disease, people with dementia in Africa will continue to be labelled as witches and wizards, dehumanized and sent to witches camps and other spiritualists for so call treatment. And many will continue to die in these treatment facilities as a result of the ways and methods employed by these quack healers.

It is absurd that people still believe in this practice of witch craft in the 21st century when the rest of the world is fast finding solutions to similar problems that plagued their countries many decades ago.

Africa cannot afford to be left behind and continue to treat our elderly like scum. The people who took care of us and made us who we are today deserved to be treated with respect and dignity and not to be dehumanized and treated with contempt. If we fail to arrest this problem now but turn a blind eye to it and allow it to persist as it is, a time will come when governments will be faced with a crisis beyond proportion.


Gabriel Dalous (Gaby)

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