By Surihe Gaomas
It is one of those rare but crippling chronic diseases that go unnoticed. First you would feel dizzy, experience mood changes, fatigue, blurred vision, short-term memory, loss of muscle strength in the arms or legs and ultimately pain when trying to walk.
This is a disease called Multiple Sclerosis, or MS for short.
MS is a chronic illness that affects the brain and central nervous system, which results in a person being unable to coordinate one’s body well, because incorrect signals are sent from the brain to the nervous system.
Unlike other lifelong diseases like HIV/Aids and cancer, very few Namibians are diagnosed with MS.
Even though some people may be living with this illness today, many of them are not aware of the symptoms due to ignorance.
However, in an effort to bring Multiple Sclerosis to the attention of the public recently, founder Bianca Ozcan and others came up with the idea of launching “Multiple Sclerosis Namibia” (MS Namibia) – a welfare organization that deals with people suffering from MS.
This idea became a reality when the Deputy Minister of Health and Social Services, Petrina Haingura, officially launched the organization on July 14.
At the occasion, Haingura said the time had come for all Namibians to support those living with chronic illnesses.
“The nation must stop being ignorant towards people who suffer from chronic diseases and provide full commitment, attention and support. Yes, we are all ignorant,” said Haingura.
MS Namibia is registered under the Welfare Act WO 293 with the aim of providing a healthy lifestyle and awareness of those living with this disease.
Haingura also called on all Namibians to support the organization in its activities and objectives of making MS known to all.
“So let us all be prepared to assist where we can, be it financially, in kind or in rendering a helping hand,” said the deputy minister.
Multiple sclerosis is unpredictable and varies in severity. In some people, it is a mild illness, but it can lead to permanent disability in others, according to Bianca Ozcan.
“I was diagnosed with MS in May 2006, after a rocky road of illness without any specific diagnosis since 2001. I had the most confusing and unpredictable symptoms with lots of unbearable pain. The shock of being told that I have a chronic disease that can end very badly, ran like shock waves through my head. Why me, what did I do wrong, where must I start and where will it end,” said Ozcan. She said mostly women are affected by the disease because they are either not diagnosed, or misdiagnosed or cannot afford the care and medication they need.
” If you look at symptoms, its more like that of a pregnant woman. You feel nausea, tired, dizzy, and MS is more common in women than in men,” said Ozcan.
It is, however, not scientifically clear what causes this disease that mostly affects people between the ages of 20 and 40 years.
Multiple sclerosis is widely believed to be an auto-immune disease, a condition in which your immune system attacks components of your body as if they’re foreign.
In multiple sclerosis, the body mistakenly directs antibodies and white blood cells against proteins in the myelin sheath, a fatty substance that insulates nerve fibres in your brain and spinal cord.
This results in inflammation and injury to the sheath and ultimately to the nerves that it surrounds. The result may be multiple areas of scarring (sclerosis). Eventually, this damage can slow or block the nerve signals that control muscle coordination, strength, sensation and vision.
As for symptoms, some people with multiple sclerosis may also develop muscle stiffness, slurred speech, paralysis, or problems with bladder, bowel or sexual function.
Mental changes, such as forgetfulness or difficulties with concentration, may also occur.
Globally, multiple sclerosis affects more than one million people around the world, yet it is still not known what the causes are, or how many people are affected in Namibia. Against this background, MS Namibia is starting up a database system onto which statistics will be documented.