Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his eloquent speech. I am grateful to speak in support of Bill C-278, introduced by the hon. member for Halifax West, which promotes epilepsy awareness.
The bill calls on the Government of Canada to establish each March 26 as Purple Day in Canada. Every year on March 26, people would be encouraged to wear the colour purple to indicate their support for those living with epilepsy and to raise awareness of this serious condition. Any opportunity we have to raise awareness of this important health issue and its causes is worthy of consideration. There are many reasons for this.
Almost 190,000 Canadians are living with epilepsy, a number growing by almost 15,000 every year, many of whom are in my home riding of Oshawa.
I was diagnosed and grew up with petit mal epilepsy. I know what it is like to deal with this condition. People living with epilepsy experience brief recurring seizures that can pose serious harm. Epilepsy can begin at any age, but new cases are most common among children and older adults. While many strides have been made in addressing epilepsy, much remains to be done.
Socially, people with epilepsy can suffer from the stigma associated with it because there is little understanding about the nature of the disease. At times, people with epilepsy can also face difficulty finding employment or even obtaining private health insurance.
To underscore the challenges of living with epilepsy, we need only listen to the stories of our fellow Canadians, like Norm Beam from Niagara Falls, Ontario. Mr. Beam said:
Suffering from so many seizures due to having epilepsy was a really rough time in my life as well as my wife, Janet....
Many nights my wife and I would lay in bed in tears, feeling so helpless. We had no one to turn to. No one really understood what my epilepsy was doing to me. Friends and family weren't there for they just didn't understand. I lost a few friends after they witnessed me having a seizure.
As well, there is the case of Adam Cunningham from Burlington, Ontario. Mr. Cunningham started having seizures at eight years of age. He would have as many as 10 a day. Mr. Cunningham said these seizures felt like “somebody was bashing my head in with a baseball bat”.
As a result of his epilepsy, Mr. Cunningham lost out on hockey and lacrosse scholarships. As a result of his condition, he was not able to live alone or to drive. He even underwent brain surgery in the hopes of reducing the seizures. When referring to his epilepsy, he said:
It has been a terrible impact on my life and I don't want this to happen to anyone else.
Mr. Beam's and Mr. Cunningham's stories are but two examples of the countless challenges that Canadians with epilepsy face every day. As such, we must do more to raise awareness about epilepsy. In doing so, we can decrease the stigma faced by epileptics.
Epileptic seizures are classified as a neurological condition caused by sudden, brief electrical discharges in a group of brain cells. This condition can be separated into two types, idiopathic epilepsy and symptomatic epilepsy. Idiopathic epilepsy accounts for 60% of cases. It cannot be prevented. Its cause is unknown. Symptomatic epilepsy, also known as secondary epilepsy, the kind I was diagnosed with, can be caused by brain damage during birth, strokes, brain infections, brain tumours and severe brain injuries caused by accidents. All of these factors can contribute to epileptic seizures.
Research shows greater occurrences of epilepsy in children and seniors. For example, nearly a quarter of new seizure cases occur after the age of 60. One contributing factor in this case is a greater risk of injuries stemming from falls.
Studies show that children and seniors have a greater chance of incurring head injuries, which as I mentioned can cause secondary epilepsy. As such, activities that address supportive environments and injury prevention must be embraced. The Government of Canada is doing just that. For example, the government supports initiatives that enable both young and old to live safely and actively. It promotes active and safe routes to school, age-friendly communities and a broad range of injury prevention efforts.
The government has also provided $5 million to address sports and recreational injuries among children and youth through the active and safe injury prevention initiative.
This initiative draws attention to the importance of safety and precaution in recreational activities while encouraging children and youth to be active. While these positive initiatives are making a difference from a prevention perspective, there remains a lack of information about epilepsy that must be addressed.
That is why, in collaboration with Canada's major neurological charities, the government has implemented a four year $15 million population study. This study will determine the rates of neurological conditions in Canada and the effects of these conditions on individuals, families and caregivers.
The study involves the assistance of 25 neurological health charities, including Neurological Health Charities Canada and the Canadian Epilepsy Alliance. Data from the study will be used to better understand and meet the needs of Canadians affected by these conditions.
In addition, the government has invested more than $44 million in epilepsy-specific research since 2006, through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, CIHR. Funding for this research comes through the Institute of Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addiction, as well as the Institute of Human Development, Child and Youth Health.
This research is crucial. It helps create new understanding about how we can build understanding and awareness of the impact of genetics on epilepsy, how epilepsy affects brain development, and what types of interventions can improve the quality of care and well-being for those living with epilepsy.
This knowledge is filling the gaps related to epilepsy that can be used to inform policies and programs and to help improve the health of Canadians. While research is key, continued action from all sectors is also critical. Right now, communities across Canada are taking action to raise awareness about epilepsy and injury prevention.
Our international partners are also taking a higher profile stance on this issue. The World Health Organization is leading a global campaign to raise awareness and provide better information about epilepsy. Together, global partners, including Canada, are building a stronger evidence base. We are strengthening and sharing our knowledge. Collectively, we are making great strides in advancing these efforts. But we can do even more.
The Canadian Epilepsy Alliance, CEA, a national support and information network, has been leading efforts to gain Canadian and international support for Purple Day. Last March, the Minister of Health recognized March as National Epilepsy Month. By drawing further attention to this issue and by declaring March 26 as Purple Day, the government will take a leadership role in these awareness raising efforts.
Before I close, I want to take a moment to offer some considerations.
The best possible path for all Canadians is to take precautions in prevention and treatment. First, proper health care and treatment is essential. Individuals with epilepsy need to ensure they seek medical advice and take their medications as directed. Even missing a dose can cause a seizure.
Additionally, those with other medical complications compounding their epilepsy must take care to ensure their medications and dosages are well managed. For people living with epilepsy, it is important to ensure their family, friends and colleagues know how to respond appropriately in the event of a seizure.
Taking precautions to prevent injuries is a shared role. We can all help to provide a safe environment. Whether we are driving, swimming, or at home, we should always be mindful of potential dangers such as falls. We would do well to remember that it is possible to prevent some forms of epilepsy by taking precautions. For example, wearing helmets helps prevent head injuries, which in turn can prevent secondary epilepsy.
For those with epilepsy, managing it well can help ensure a full life and the ability to participate in many activities. There is hope for a cure and there is hope for those living with this condition. I am evidence of that.
Bill C-278 represents a progressive step forward in raising awareness of epilepsy. It also lets epileptics know that they are not alone. By supporting this bill, we would officially enshrine in law every March 26 as Purple Day. This would increase Canadians' awareness of epilepsy and its causes. It would enable us to better support people living with epilepsy and to better understand the link between epilepsy and injury prevention.
I encourage all members to support the bill. I am confident it would make great strides toward improving the quality of life for those living with epilepsy and their families. I know this bill is extremely important to many families in Oshawa who have loved ones who suffer from epilepsy.
Again, I thank the hon. member for bringing this important issue forward for our consideration so that we can all ensure that this happens.