Bayer Schering Pharma launched a patient assistance programme to help more people with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) enjoy a better quality of life through early and continued treatment with interferon beta.

The programme was introduced in conjunction with World MS Day 2010 recently.

MS is a disease in which the body’s own immune system attacks the myelin – the protective covering around the nerve cells that insulates and helps the transmission of nerve signals throughout the body.

Attacks on the myelin sheath inflame the nerves and briefly disrupt the nerve signals. If the attack on myelin continues, the nerve becomes damaged beyond repair and hard scar-like tissue forms, often completely blocking nerve impulses. This is when MS symptoms appear.

MS is one of the most common neurological disease affecting adults in the prime of their lives worldwide, typically striking young people in their twenties and thirties. It is estimated to affect between one to nine patients per 100,000 in Asia, and in Malaysia specifically, about two to three MS patients in every 100,000 people.


Symptoms of MS are unpredictable
Consultant neurologist Dr Shanti Viswanathan stated, “Symptoms of MS are unpredictable and can vary from person to person. These can range from dimness or double vision and slurred speech, to numbness and tingling in the face, limbs and upper body. Given the lack of awareness of MS and the ambiguity of symptoms which often diminish or improve after a few days or weeks, we believe that there may actually be more patients having MS, but are either undiagnosed or untreated.”

“There seems to be a relatively small window of opportunity to slow the disease, with lost body functions generally impossible to regain. Although there’s no cure for MS as yet, disease modifying therapies such as interferon beta, have been found to be effective in reducing the annual rate of relapses in people with MS by up to 40 percent, and slow down disease progression over a 16-year study period.

The encouraging treatment outcome with interferon beta that certainly gives people with MS hope for a brighter future,” Dr Shanti continued.

“Early treatment is vital to delaying disease progression and later disability as MS is a progressive, chronic condition that requires life-long treatment. Some patients may defer treatment if they feel well, not realising that MS is still causing them silent but irreversible damage.

In fact, growing medical evidence demonstrate that people with MS who have been on treatment since early diagnosis are living longer, healthier lives compared to those who did not have that advantage,” said Dr Shunitra Devi, medical director with Bayer Schering Pharma.

“We recognise that cost may pose a barrier for some people with MS, and it is for this very reason that we initiated our patient assistance programme – to help more people in MS enjoy better access to treatment, start on treatment earlier, and stay on it for the long term,” added Dr Shunitra.


MS patient assistance programme
Bayer Schering Pharma’s interferon beta patient assistance programme is carried out in partnership with the social welfare departments of government hospitals. People who are diagnosed with MS and are prescribed interferon beta treatment by their doctors can apply to the hospital social welfare department for consideration.

Upon sharing her own experience with MS, Padma Panniker, president of the MS Society of Malaysia, said “I went through a challenging 15-year journey before I was finally diagnosed with MS. Being able to go on treatment was the turning point in my life. Many of the Society’s members have faced similar challenges, and we now endeavour to increase awareness of the disease in the hopes of helping ease other patients’ journey to diagnosis and go on treatment earlier.

Ultimately, we hope to see more people with MS in Malaysia benefit from early and continued treatment so that they can enjoy a better quality of life, and even live more active and fulfilling lives.”

“We had over 130 participants at our recent charity Walk for MS and Sky of Stars palm print painting event in celebration of World MS Day,” enthused Ms Padma.

“We are delighted and greatly encouraged to have such a strong show of support from corporate partners such as Bayer Schering Pharma and members of the public alike, as it leads to greater awareness of MS.”

The Sky of Stars painting was presented to Hospital Kuala Lumpur for public display. The palm print painting signifies the role of different parties and the individual commitment needed to enhance the awareness of MS in Malaysia.

CHALLENGES VOL3, ISSUE3 2010  (Challenges Magazine is a journalism skills training project for persons with disabilities started in 2007)