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Multiple sclerosis study confirms prevalence of the disease in Canada

Posted Jan 14 2009 8:23pm

The Canadien Press

September 18, 2008

MONTREAL — Canada has one of the highest rates of multiple sclerosis in the world and the country fails in providing adequate services for sufferers, a new study suggests.

The global survey by the World Health Organization and the Multiple Sclerosis International Federation focuses on the prevalence of the disease in more than 100 countries representing almost 88 per cent of the world's population.

The Atlas of Multiple Sclerosis was launched on Wednesday at the beginning of a four-day conference on the disease.

The study said MS strikes 133 people out of every 100,000 in Canada, the fifth-highest rate among the nations surveyed between 2004 and 2007.

Only in the United States, Germany, Norway and Hungary was the disease more prevalent.

Allan Thompson, a top official with the MS International Federation, says Canada has always been a model in terms of the treatment of MS and in addressing quality of life for sufferers.

"But I think even in Canada the services could be better," Thompson said in an interview, noting that support for employment is a big issue for Canadians with MS.

"Staying in employment is so important for quality of life and self-esteem and we just simply ignore it in most countries and Canada would probably fall into that group as well."

Stewart Wong, a spokesman for the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada, agreed.

"You can't easily earn income without reducing the benefits that are given to you by the government in a seamless way," he said.

"It means that in many cases people will choose not to work even if they are able to so they can afford their treatments and that's a very unfortunate thing."

Still, the study also highlights where Canada succeeds, Wong said.

"If someone has a first symptom of MS, they can go to a doctor, they can go to a neurologist, they can go to a support group and that's all within a couple of phone calls," he said.

"That stands out for us."

But Thompson believes the overall results highlight the lack of services, expertise and training in the area of MS worldwide.

"We're failing miserably and we're failing in even the most affluent countries," he said. "That's something that needs to be addressed urgently for which there's really no excuse."

Multiple sclerosis is a chronic disease that attacks the central nervous system, causing inflammation and damage. It has also been linked to environmental and genetic factors.

Wong said 2.5 million people worldwide have MS.

The MS Society of Canada says 55,000 Canadians have the disease.

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