Multiple sclerosis attacks increase in Pakistan: experts

KARACHI: Experts said on Wednesday cases of multiple sclerosis (MS), an inflammatory disease that damages the insulating covers of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, had started surfacing quite frequently and warned that the non-availability of medicines for the disease could put its patients — usually young in age — in various disabilities for the rest of their lives.

“The damage in the insulating covers of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord disrupts the ability of parts of the nervous system to communicate, resulting in a wide range of signs and symptoms, including physical, mental and sometimes psychiatric problems,” said Dr Wasay Shakir, president of the Pakistan Society of Neurology, at a press conference held on the eve of World MS Day at the Karachi Press Club.

He said Pakistan was among the countries where the incidence of the disease was low. However, it manifested more in the country’s chilly northwestern mountainous regions for climatic and genetic factors. Its presence in Asia was more prominent in its central and eastern parts.

Dr Nayla Shahbaz said MS affected young people — between 20 and 40 years — and its detection was becoming routinely normal.

“The disease affects 400 people a year, but as our diagnostic facilities have improved this ratio could be more. The disease is ancient, it has been in our country for centuries but we could only detect it for the first time a decade ago when we got hold of better medical gadgets,” she said.

Dr Shakir said MS took several forms, with new symptoms either occurring in isolated attacks or building up over time. Intermittently, symptoms might go away completely, but permanent neurological problems often occurred.

They spoke about the difficulties patients faced because of the non-availability of medicines for the disease and urged the authorities to take measures to mitigate the problem.

Otherwise, they warned, a patient could become disabled for life if he did not get the required treatment in time. A number of patients, who had not been given treatment, would remain stuck to wheelchairs, in five to 10 years since the first symptoms manifested, they added.

Published in Dawn, May 28th, 2015