On 12 March, Ain Shams University — one of the two oldest and most established universities in Cairo — witnessed the opening of a first-of-its-kind unit for treating Multiple Sclerosis in Egypt.
The event, attended by a big number of experts in the field, was another opportunity to tackle the little talked of agony of MS sufferers, their statistical number, and the challenges they face.
Multiple Sclerosis, or MS, is a disease whose reasons are still shrouded in mystery. With MS, the autoimmune system attacks its own tissues, eventually destroying a fatty substance that protects nerve fibres in the brain and the spinal cord.
In Egypt, the most recent statistics by the Ministry of Health show that MS cases comprise 1.4 percent of all neurological diseases, and that the number of sufferers in the country is approximately 50,000.
The major problem with MS is that it usually strikes at a very early age, affecting those between the ages of 20 and 40 in 70 percent of cases.
“Imagine a young man or woman, as young as 20 years old, struck by an immunity disease and facing the possibility of an inability to talk, walk and live normally within a few years. That is the tragedy of MS, if left untreated,” Dr Osama Abdel Ghany, professor of neurology Ain Shams University, told Ahram Online.
Dr Abdel Ghany described the inauguration of the unit as an opportunity to draw attention to the disease that lays a high burden on society, explaining that although the percentage of sufferers is not large, most sufferers are young, and almost 40 percent of them end up with complete disability if left untreated, thus depriving them and society of their productive lives.
Dr Abdel Ghany also drew attention to the fact that more awareness is needed regarding the financial toll of the disease. “Egyptian medical insurance only provides an allowance of 2,000 LE per month to the patient, which covers a tiny amount of the expenses, which range annually from 70,000 to 140,000 LE per person,“ he told Ahram Online.
“That’s why the inauguration of this unit is a big step,“ said Dr Hany Aref, professor of neurology. He explained that MS is a challenge from the beginning, because its symptoms, which commonly start with visual and sensory fluctuations, go sometimes unnoticed and are often mistaken for other causes.
Dr Samia Ashour, head of the Psychiatry and Neurology Department, takes heart in the strides Ain Shams University is taking to upgrade its MS service level and research facilities, thanking Novartis company for their cooperation and stating that two months ago a new stroke centre had been inaugurated, and that the new MS unit comes as the latest accomplishment in addressing serious risks to health.
The service capacity offered by the new facility was described by Dr Magd Zakria. "Around 60 to 80 patients will benefit every month to ensure that top quality service is maintained. More patients will receive related services." He added that the unit is equipped with follow-up devices, an ECG monitor and offers a daycare facility.
The inauguration panel also mentioned that although the causes of MS are still shrouded in mystery, and in spite of the fact that there is no known cure until now, the course of the disease can be much modified and the symptoms managed to a great extent if the right treatment is given — particularly with the use of fingolimod - an oral medication approved by the US Food and Drug Agency in 2010.
In addition to constant medical monitoring and taking medication prescribed by doctors, lifestyle changes that a MS patient needs to take into consideration include:
· Good nutrition that includes rich sunflower oil, vegetables and fruits, and minimising saturated fats
· A good intake of vitamin D
· Limited exposure to heat. Even showers should not be with hot water.
· Avoiding varied kinds of stress
· Maintaining peace of mind and steering away from exhaustion.
According to statistics provided by the WHO, for every 100,000 persons, 30 are affected by the disease, with a total number reaching up to 2.5 percent worldwide. It is noted also that women are twice as likely to develop MS. After road accidents, MS is regarded as the second most common cause of disability around the world.