Over 90 per cent of adults aged 50 years and above are vulnerable to the reactivation of Varicella-zoster virus due to the ageing of immune system, which puts them at risk of getting shingles. Unfortunately, shingles awareness levels are low. A multi-country online survey conducted by Ipsos, on behalf of GSK, shows that only 7 per cent adults surveyed feel they are at personal risk of getting shingles in the next 10 years with the main reasons stated linked to misconceptions.
The Varicella-zoster virus, which is commonly responsible for chickenpox in youth, is known to lie dormant in the body but reactivates at a later stage in life. The viral infection in adulthood can lead to severe complications, including blindness, hearing problems, pneumonia, encephalitis, as well as postherpetic neuralgia, which affects between 5 to 30 per cent of people with shingles.
Dr. Sara Al Dallal, President of Emirates Health Economics Society, highlights that shingles itself is extremely painful and causes significant damage to the nerves, especially if the attack occurs on the eye or its nervous system. The condition also leaves a socio-economic impact, she adds, that can eventually extend to limit the individual’s social interactions and impact the quality of life, because of the pain and the feeling of being compromised both socially and psychologically. This further extends to their families.
Raising awareness of shingles is essential to ensure active prevention and reduce the significant repercussions that may arise from this infection.
The role of regulatory bodies and the government
Speaking about the UAE government’s role in raising awareness among the public, Dr. Al Dallal said that dedicated campaigns aligned with the initiative is a top priority and the first step towards raising awareness.
“An important aspect is creating the awareness by clearly stating the role of shingles vaccines in the national clinical standards and policies. There are certain policies that are available online that specifically state the vaccine and its indication, acting as a reference to practicing healthcare professionals. The final stage is the provision of having the vaccine available and accessible to patients. The UAE government is also keen to promote the availability and accessibility of the vaccine for the eligible individuals,” she adds.
Steps to promote the prevention of shingles
While there is no cure for shingles, there are options to alleviate its symptoms, with limited or no significant impact on the most common complications, including anti-viral and pain medications, anti-inflammatory treatments, and a vaccine that is now available in the UAE.
“Under the Healthy Ageing Program, GSK is collaborating with various healthcare organizations through signing a memorandum of understanding to work on improving and creating awareness on healthy ageing,” said Dr. Gizem Akalin, Vice President, and General Manager at GSK Gulf.
Adult vaccination is a crucial component of this initiative, and should be a shared responsibility across all specialties, alongside supporting healthcare professionals through information sharing and collaboration. This collaboration extends to providing patients with the necessary support to ensure their well-being.
“Pharmaceutical companies serve as partners in this journey, not just drug providers. Therefore, it is crucial for regulators, hospitals, healthcare professionals, pharmacies, insurance companies, and the overall healthcare ecosystem to collaborate and develop strategies to help individuals lead healthier lives,” added Dr. Akalin.
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