Korean epilepsy patients undergo surgery abroad

Korean epilepsy patients are traveling overseas for surgery due to lack of government support, a lawmaker has said.

Representative In Jae-keun of the Democratic Party released the analysis of data from the Ministry of Health and Welfare on epilepsy patients.

Epilepsy is the second leading cause of death among neurological diseases. The sudden death rate of epileptic patients is about 10 times higher than that of the general population. In young people with epilepsy between the ages of 20 and 45, the rate of sudden death is about 27 times higher.

However, 70% of epileptic patients can stop seizures with medication, and the remaining 30% can improve their symptoms with appropriate treatment.

Yet Korea is not a good place to live for epilepsy patients. Patients with epilepsy registered as disabled have significantly lower scores for depression, anxiety disorder, premature death by suicide and unemployment, compared to the average for all disabled.

The legislator argued that the poor health indicators of epilepsy patients resulted from insufficient government support.

According to data from the Ministry of Health, Korea has about 360,000 epilepsy patients.

Among them, 44,670 suffer from severe and incurable epilepsy and experience at least one seizure per month even after taking three or more anticonvulsants. About 37,990 patients need surgery, In said.

Around 1,000 epileptic patients are waiting for surgery after tests including a video electroencephalogram (EEG).

The problem is that the supply of epilepsy surgery does not meet the demand in Korea.

In 2021, hospitals only performed 145 epilepsy surgeries in Korea.

Annually, the number of epilepsy surgeries remains below 200 on average.

As 37,990 patients need surgery, it takes them about 260 years to get surgery, based on the number of surgeries in 2021.

Reducing the target to 1,000 patients awaiting surgery, it takes 6.7 years to get surgery in Korea.

The country’s insufficient epilepsy surgery stems from lack of hospitals and equipment.

Only nine surgeons from six hospitals can perform epilepsy surgery in Korea.

Epilepsy surgery can be performed in two ways: using only the hands of the surgeon and using a robot. Robotic surgery results are much better to reduce side effects, speed of surgery and increase surgical effect.

However, Korea only has two epilepsy surgical robots.

“Experts have noted that many Korean epilepsy patients go abroad, including to Japan, for tests and surgeries,” In said.

Last year, the health ministry’s budget for dementia exceeded 200 billion won, while that for epilepsy was only about 700 million won, according to In.

Although the number of epilepsy patients is about half that of dementia patients, he said the budget for epilepsy was only a 300th.

In quoted epilepsy experts as saying that a 5 billion won support from the government could significantly reduce pain for Korean patients and their families.

Although Moon Jae-in’s former government spent a budget to equip magnetoencephalography (MEG) and a surgical robot in every hospital in 2020, state support is still lacking, he added.

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