The National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS) has launched at an exclusive event in Abu Dhabi, in the presence of leadership from key government entities, advocates who are living with multiple sclerosis (MS), leading local healthcare providers, and local and international partners.
Established as an NGO under the Ministry of Community Development, NMSS was founded to deliver support programmes, improve healthcare services and provide a community for people affected by MS across the UAE, while also advancing local and global research efforts in pursuit of better treatments and a cure for the disease.
His Highness Sheikh Theyab bin Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan said: “The National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS) drives its vision from the vision of our Founding Father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who firmly believed in the importance of supporting the health and wellbeing of citizens, including protection from illness and disease. His vision was, and continues to be, translated into effective policies, proper planning, and constant awareness of the needs of society, so future generations may enjoy all aspects of their lives, the physical, mental and social, and so that every individual may achieve their full potential in society.
“Today, we celebrate the launch of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society in the UAE; a society which seeks to make a real difference in the lives of people living with multiple sclerosis, and to support them as we work together to seek better treatment, and ultimately a cure. The main goal of the association is to empower and support those with MS to live their lives to the fullest, and to raise community awareness and work towards creating a world without multiple sclerosis.”
Addressing the audience was His Excellency Mansour Ibrahim Al Mansouri, Chairman of the Department of Health, Abu Dhabi who said: “We at the Department of Health – Abu Dhabi (DoH) firmly believe that working alongside medical societies such as the NMSS will allow us to have a direct and positive effect with the patients, thus improving our healthcare practices and the well-being of patients. Due to the impact that MS has on our community, Abu Dhabi’s healthcare sector has invested in advanced technologies and medical research to enhance MS management and has even established specialised MS clinics and rehabilitation centres. The launch of the UAE’s first MS registry is a pivotal step that would help researchers and doctors around the Emirate in providing advanced and personalised levels of care for members of our community.”
Also speaking at the event, Her Excellency Dr. Fatima Al Kaabi, Vice Chair of the National MS Society Board of Trustees and Executive Director of the Bone Marrow Transplant Programme at the Abu Dhabi Stem Cells Center (ADSCC), announced several new programmes led by the Society, including the upcoming pilot of a National MS registry to track the number of people with MS and progression of the disease in the UAE, developed in partnership with Abu Dhabi Department of Health, Abu Dhabi Public Health Center and G42. The partnership has also made possible the integration of new MS information into the Malaffi web application to support those with the disease but also raise awareness too.
Dr. Al Kaabi also highlighted the launch of supporting research grants worth AED2 million, which will support local and international researchers looking to advance innovative treatments overall and also give a greater understanding into the characteristics of the disease which specifically affect those located in the UAE. This was followed by the announcement that MS Circles had commenced; moderated sessions for people living with MS to discuss key topics around MS with the aim of building a wider, bigger MS community and deepening understanding around key issues to gain better support and ensure relevant change.
She also disclosed that the Society has a digital presence, including new social channels and a website which will serve as central source of the latest information around MS, and that additional programmes would be announced soon including a volunteer initiative which will provide opportunities for members of the wider UAE society to advocate for the MS Community.
Her Excellency underscored the need for innovative treatments for MS and highlighted advancements of local partners on this front, including Abu Dhabi Stem Cell Centre’s groundbreaking progress on autologous hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (AHSCT) and bone marrow transplantation to treat patients with MS, the first such procedures performed in the region.
Commenting on the launch, Her Excellency said: “Every person with MS deserves to live an empowered and fulfilling life by having access to the best possible care. NMSS will be a critical partner in delivering this vision as we progress with building an ecosystem of support across the UAE. Everything we do will be informed by the experiences of those living with MS – we will listen to and learn from them.”
“The society will also be a scientific and research partner for global organisations in the MS field. It will leverage the UAE’s unique expertise to drive innovation and partnerships to find better treatments for MS, and move towards the goal of an MS-free future”
Studies show that MS affects more than 2.8 million people, globally. In the UAE, 2,000 people have been diagnosed with the disease, however, the actual number of people living with MS is thought to be more than double this, which is why the Department of Health - Abu Dhabi and the society is focused on raising awareness across the country. The early diagnosis and treatment of MS improves long-term health and wellbeing and can reduce the number of relapses people experience.
MS is a neurological disease that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body. MS typically affects young adults and can cause a range of symptoms including numbness, tingling, mood changes, memory problems, pain, fatigue, blindness and/or paralysis.
In line with international trends, women in the UAE are three times more likely to develop MS than men, and people with MS are typically diagnosed in youth adulthood between ages 20-40. While MS is a relatively rare, the unpredictable and often disabling nature of the disease can cause a range of physical, emotional and mental health challenges for those affected.
Attendees of the launch event were welcomed by an interactive installation, showcasing the range and severity of symptoms that a person with MS may experience, which can vary widely across patients.
The experiences and needs of MS patients were also highlighted in a panel discussion with Dr. Ahmed Shatila, Consultant Neurologist at Sheikh Shakhbout Medical City Abu Dhabi; and Khalid Alawar and Rana Kamareddine, members of the MS community who are living with the disease. Moderated by NMSS Ambassador Muna Al Harbi, the participants discussed the realities of living with multiple sclerosis and how the Society’s programmes, tools and resources can support those living with MS across the UAE.
Ms. Al Harbi, who has been diagnosed with MS and is an MS advocate, said: “Those battling MS are often left uninformed, unsupported, and ill-equipped. With the support of the NMSS, new patients, long-term patients and their support systems will be empowered with the resources, assistance and care needed to promote healthy and fulfilling lives. I am hopeful that the NMSS will become a haven for support and information for our MS community and will help to bring innovative, new treatments and world-class care to all people living with MS in the UAE.”
For more information on the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, visit https://www.nationalmssociety.ae.