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Multiple Sclerosis cases seen rising in Nigeria, Africa

There is a growing concern among neurologists over rising cases of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) among Nigerians and other Africans, against the popular belief that the disease is most common among non-Africans.

Experts say they have recently noticed increased presentation of the disease that was previously endemic to northern Europe, worried that the inadequacy of medical specialists in diagnosis and treatment could endanger patients’ outcomes.

Multiple Sclerosis is a neurological disorder that causes disability in young adults and could leave 60 percent of its victim fully paralysed 20 years after the onset. In rare cases, it could be terminal.

Peter Alabi, consultant neurologist, the University of Abuja Teaching Hospital said the awareness of the disease and its incidence in Nigeria needs to grow alongside the knowledge that it can be managed by neurologists at any of the teaching hospitals in the country.

The prevalence of MS is less than one per 100,000 in Nigeria, with an increased risk of development, according to a case review of MS by the Department of Medicine, Neurologic Unit, Niger Delta University Teaching Hospital.

Alabi, who spoke during a press briefing by Roche on raising awareness, stressed the need to drive acceptance and inclusion for MS patients through public awareness of the condition.

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“A neurologist is able to provide a patient with individualised management of the symptoms, slow the disease progression; as well as advise on home care and support, depending on the symptoms and signs presented,” he said.

About 2.8 million live with MS around the world, with 60 percent of them women. In Nigeria, an estimated 10,048 people are affected by the condition, and the diagnosis remains challenged by limited access to diagnostic tools, serology testing, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Other challenges include low disease awareness amongst the public and limited access to medications required to manage the disease.

With a population of over 206 million individuals, Nigeria has only about 80 registered neurologists in the country, a disproportionate figure which points to another shortage in skilled manpower for diagnosis and treatment the nervous system disorders.

Ladi Hameed, general manager, Roche Nigeria reiterated the organisation’s commitment as a long-standing partner in the Nigerian health care system, saying it has expanded its therapeutic areas to include neurosciences with focal diseases such as MS.

He called for concerted efforts to be made in achieving the purpose of World MS Day, highlighting the critical role of relevant stakeholders and partnerships to succeed in delivering better outcomes for MS patients.

Understanding MS disease progression and educating the public on basic symptoms, he said, will lead to timely referrals to specialists in the hospitals and improve the lives of these patients.

“In addition, working with neurologists, the Federal Ministry of Health, diagnostic centres for laboratory testing, imaging, and engaging local patient support groups will address the unique health care system challenges that disrupt access to MS diagnosis and its management,” he said.

Roche plans to map the MS patients’ journey by identifying data gaps and launching clinical trials to understand how MS affects a typical African patient. Roche is also willing to collaborate with stakeholders to develop data registries and analyse these insights as well as work with MS patient groups within the country to reduce the stigma and increase awareness.

World MS Day is typically observed on May 30 each year and the theme for the year 2022 is Connections. Established by the Multiple Sclerosis International Federation (MSIF) in 2009, World MS Day seeks to unite the global MS community to share stories, raise awareness, and campaign with and for everyone affected by the condition.

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