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Changing attitudes towards Multiple Sclerosis

Dr Chris McGuigan

Consultant Neurologist, St. Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a complex condition which varies in severity, but according to Dr Chris McGuigan, Consultant Neurologist at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin, the personal and societal impact of MS is far reaching.

MS is a very common condition in Ireland, with about 9,000 people living with the illness countrywide. However, over the past 10 years people’s perceptions of the disease have certainly begun to change.

“Ireland has one of the highest prevalence rates of MS in the world,” explains Dr McGuigan. “However, we also have a very good structure for managing and treating the condition. Unlike some of our European neighbours, we tend to have access to some of the most effective treatments of MS here in Ireland but access can vary around the country. We also develop and engage in a lot of research studies and clinical trials.

“There has been a huge advance in the treatment of MS. For example, there will soon be over a dozen active drugs available for relapsing-remitting MS, where attacks are followed by periods of recovery.”

Societal costs of MS

Nevertheless, like in most medical areas, there is room for further improvement. For Dr McGuigan, one of the most important areas that needs to be addressed is equal access to treatments. This should be nationwide and highlighting the societal costs of MS.

“There are of course direct costs of MS, like the cost of medication or the expense of having to attend hospitals and clinics. Then there are indirect costs, like the loss of earning or a reduction in productivity. There is also something we call the intangible costs of MS. These affect people in the form of depression, low moods or maybe some cognitive problems or pain. These affects can have a huge impact on people’s social lives, relationships and family activity but it’s very difficult to put a cost on them.

“However, it’s the societal costs that we feel needs to be highlighted. Depending on the stage and disability level of someone living with MS, the societal cost for each person with MS can vary between €35,000 for mild MS and €100,000 a year for severe MS.”

Early and aggressive treatment

For Dr McGuigan, early and aggressive treatment is key to not only reducing this societal cost, but it could also supply a huge individual benefit to the person suffering from MS.

We in the MS community feel there should be an increased national fund for treating the condition. A situation where everyone in the country has equal access to treatment. And also, drugs, neurology care and well trained allied health professionals, for example neuro-physiotherapists should also exist. It shouldn’t matter where you’re geographically situated.”

Dr McGuigan is quick to point out that while people in Ireland with MS still have unmet needs. Such as access to neuro-psychology and the lowest number of neurologists per head of population in Europe, improvements in these areas would be very beneficial to the overall condition, the country has also come along leaps and bounds in terms of available treatments.

“We are now even starting to see some treatments for progressive MS come through. While these are not going to be available for another 12 to 18 months, there are certainly good signs. Ultimately, over the past decade MS has become a much more manageable condition but people with MS must be able to access the appropriate specialists to avail of these treatments.”

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