KENYA – Kenya’s Ministry of Health is in discussions with health stakeholders to commence local production for treatment of multiple sclerosis (MS) in a bid boost access to drugs that can minimize the damage of any immune attack on the brain.

Multiple sclerosis is a condition that affects the brain and spinal cord causing a wide range of symptoms including visual impairment, arm or leg movement, sensation or imbalance, fatigue, numbness, spasms and weakness and loss of control over muscle movement or function.

The neurological symptoms are a consequence of immune cells infiltrating the brain and attacking the myelin sheath coating that permits normal nerve cell conduction hence patients experience a range of sensory and motor conditions.

Average life expectancy is slightly reduced for people with MS and it’s a lifelong condition that can sometimes cause serious disability but it is possible to treat symptoms in many cases. However, the expensive multiple sclerosis treatment process costs between KES 4.5 million – KES6 million.

Moreover, experts estimate that an MS patient on immune suppressants require at least six vials in a month, each goes for KES250,000 meaning a patient requires at least KES1.2 million for drugs alone. The treatment is highly unaffordable to ordinary Kenyans affected by the multiple sclerosis condition.

The decision to manufacture neural drugs in Kenya comes after MS patients led by Marion Juma, an advocate of the High court, petitioned the Senate Health Committee demanding that the Senate initiates a subsidy on medicine to make them affordable.

The patients also wanted the Senate to intervene and ensure that they are more and qualified MS specialists in all hospitals especially county referral hospitals since Kenya has only 18 MS specialists who are all based in Nairobi.

Furthermore, the MS patients also want to be recognized as people living with disability and be exempted from taxation as well as for National Hospital Insurance Fund to cover their medical expenses. Due to lack of awareness of this rare condition, some patients have missed out on job opportunities.

Health Chief Administrative Secretary Rashid Aman disclosed that the health ministry has already formed committees to discuss and provide recommendations on price control and local production which are targeted towards reducing the price of the medicines.

He said there’s need to increase awareness and strengthen the health systems to diagnose and provide appropriate management to address the care capacity challenge to patients in the rural areas who have to travel long distances to seek treatment.

Rashid Aman further that the ministry is further advocating for taxation incentives to make all essential products affordable and easier to produce locally along with more money allocated to awareness campaigns for government and private sector to understand the condition and the management of patients.

In addition, Health CAS Rashid Aman in his submissions to the Senate Friday last week acknowledged that the actual burden of the disease has not been fully established despite notable prevalence of the condition in Kenya.

The ministry recognizes the shortage of the specialists in general and one of the measures undertaken is through the Kenyan Cuban project of increasing specialist services in Kenya. The lead specialist needed to support treatment of the condition is the neurologist who are currently available mainly in Level 5 and 6 facilities,” he observed.

The CAS said the ministry is taking steps to strengthen rehabilitation services in the country including scaling up the services to primary health care facilities to boost access, adding that three neurologists and three ophthalmologists were recruited to provide services at the county referral hospitals.

He further disclosed that there are ongoing plans to train more physiotherapists, occupational therapists, language and speech therapists among others in skills needed to provide quality services.

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