May 30 marks World Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Day, a global occasion aimed at raising awareness about this neurological disease and supporting those affected by it.
However, despite its impact on millions of people worldwide, MS remains underreported, and there are significant limitations in access to and barriers to effective MS management. Health leaders are now being called upon to enable change and address these issues.
The National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS) of the UAE has taken a proactive approach to support the local community affected by MS. Recently launched initiatives by the NMSS include MS Strong, a health and well-being partnership programme, and New to MS, an ongoing webinar series targeting those recently diagnosed with MS in the region.
MS Strong offers complimentary health and well-being classes designed to keep individuals affected by MS as active as possible, considering their specific conditions. These classes cater to a wide range of physical abilities, including options for participants who need to remain seated or use a wheelchair.
The New to MS programme provides online access to leading medical professionals specialising in MS. The programme aims to support individuals who have recently been diagnosed with the disease, as this can be a challenging and overwhelming time.
MS is a neurological disease that disrupts the flow of information between the brain and the body. It primarily affects young adults, causing a wide range of symptoms such as numbness, tingling, mood changes, memory problems, pain, fatigue, and even paralysis. Women are three times more likely to develop MS than men, and the disease is typically diagnosed in young adulthood, between the ages of 20 and 40. The unpredictable and disabling nature of MS presents significant physical, emotional, and mental health challenges for those affected.
Speaking about the initiatives leading up to World MS Day, Dr. Fatima Al Kaabi, vice chair of the NMSS, highlighted the significance of raising awareness about MS in the UAE and the global community. She emphasised the importance of offering support during the early stages of diagnosis, which can often be daunting.
According to studies, MS affects over 2.8 million people worldwide. In the UAE, 2,000 individuals have been diagnosed with the disease, but the actual number of people living with MS is believed to be significantly higher. To address this, the Department of Health, Abu Dhabi, and the NMSS are focused on raising awareness and promoting early diagnosis and treatment to improve long-term health outcomes and reduce the number of relapses.
To enable change and address the underreporting of MS, health leaders need to prioritise raising awareness, improving access to medical expertise, and breaking down barriers to effective MS management.
Dr. Khalid Al Saffar, Specialist Neurologist at Medcare Hospital, Al Safa, said, “The disease starts with numbness. It may not be diagnosed by a general practitioner and may be neglected or under reported.”
He also said that medication for MS is expensive, and availability is an issue. “Medication cost is a barrier to management. Patients should have access to physiotherapy, education, and MS rehabilitation centres are important to make disease management easy,” he said.
Through collaboration and continued efforts, it is hoped that the impact of MS can be mitigated and individuals affected by the disease can lead fulfilling lives, added Dr. Khalid.