LAHORE- “ Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a chronic inflammatory and demyelinating disease of the central nervous system (CNS), predominantly involving the white matter," according to renowned neurologist Dr Amir Ikram.
Moreover, there has been an increase in the prevalence of MS globally, with studies showing 30 cases in a population of 100,000 that are affected with this neurological disease, he added.
He was speaking on the occasion of “World MS Day” observed in the country as elsewhere globally on the last Wednesday of May every year. President of Society for Multiple Sclerosis Patients in Pakistan Ms Afroz Syed also addressed the gathering.
Elaborating on the disease, Dr Ikram said that the prevalence of MS varies considerably in Asian countries.
“MS is not uncommon in Pakistan. Overall features of MS in Pakistan are similar to MS seen in the western hemisphere. Approximately, three-quarters of the patients are disabled moderate to severe by MS, which could be related to extremely low use of disease modifying agents in our patient population.
Explaining that the mean age of MS patients in Pakistan is 27 years, with female-to-male ratio of 3:1, he said that it characterized by a variety of symptoms, including fatigue, weakness, and mobility issues.
He pointed out that initially there was no cure for MS, but now there are treatments, including oral regimes that help individuals living with the disease to have an improved quality of life.
He said: “Diagnosing MS is a complex process and often differs among individuals. A diagnosis of MS is based on the person's medical history, a neurological examination, and other tests, including an MRI scan to get a picture of the CNS-brain and the spinal cord."
He emphasized that evidence suggests that the best time for a person with MS to start treatment is as early as possible during the course of the disease. It is important for a person with MS to be committed to the treatment thereafter. The earlier treatment is started and maintained, the greater the long-term benefits may be for the person with MS. Since MS is a long-term chronic disease, it is important for a person with MS to remain on disease-modifying therapy, he opined.
He warned that without early diagnosis and proper treatment, the disease progresses and patients experience a worsening of their symptoms. Their physical functioning is drastically affected and MS patients become severely disabled, bedridden, wheelchair-bound or worse. Each recurrent MS attack robs them of various functions and senses, which can affect their vision, cause loss of bladder and bowel control, or weaken their arms or legs.
"To gauge the effectiveness of treatments and to determine the load likely to fall on health-care systems, it is necessary to understand the prevalence and natural progression of the disease, especially with regard to the quality of life," he added.
The available treatment is beyond the affording power of many patients in Pakistan. People living with MS often show scarce audacity, persistence, and grace in dealing with extraordinary challenges thrown up by their disease.
Speaking on the occasion, Ms Afroz Syed said that in order to combat the MS, patients need coordinated efforts from all stakeholders, including doctors, government institutes, NGOs, philanthropists, families, pharmaceutical companies and patient support societies.
She urged the government ensure facilities for early and accurate diagnosis, appropriate disease-modifying therapy, and rehabilitation to make the patients' lives more comfortable.
However, the immediate and pressing need is that the government should work out a scheme to provide free treatment for such patients, as the numbers of cases with such a disorder are manageable.
At the outset, she deplored that the country did not have reimbursement policies or proper health insurance system for such patients.