Mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis, a lesser known in­flam­ma­tory dis­or­der that has no cure and which can leave suf­fer­ers with limited mo­bil­ity, is a ris­ing con­cern in the re­gion. Anand Raj OK meets a pa­tient who re­veals the chal­lenges of liv­ing with MS, and an ex­pert who


Dressed in a grey kan­doora and sport­ing a wel­com­ing smile, Dar­waish Ab­dul­razak Mo­ham­mad Al Bas­taki of­fers a firm hand­shake be­fore lead­ing me into the mod­estly fur­nished liv­ing room of his villa in Dubai’s Al Bar­sha.

At first glance, there seems noth­ing wrong with the 40-some­thing un­til you no­tice the walker he uses to move around. Dar­waish reads my mind. ‘When you see me you wouldn’t guess that I have a health con­di­tion, right?’ says the soft-spo­ken man. ‘But that’s how this dis­ease cheats you; out­wardly you look nor­mal but in­side it’s de­stroy­ing you.’

The dis­ease the Emi­rati IT engi­neer is re­fer­ring to is mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis.

An in­flam­ma­tory dis­or­der that has no cure, it af­fects nerves and hin­ders the trans­fer of mes­sages from the cen­tral ner­vous sys­tem to the rest of the body. Pro­gres­sively, MS dis­ables the pa­tient, of­ten leav­ing them with limited mo­bil­ity.

World­wide there are more than 2.5mil­lion MS pa­tients. Close to home ap­prox­i­mately 55 in ev­ery 100,000 people in UAE live with the con­di­tion, says a re­port from the Salama bint Ha­madan Foun­da­tion, which in May this year hosted Mun­tada Talk, an event bring­ing to­gether lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional speak­ers for an ex­plo­rative dis­cus­sion on over­com­ing chal­lenges with MS. Ear­lier this year, at a med­i­cal sum­mit in Dubai, Dr Suhail Al Rukn, con­sul­tant neu­rol­o­gist at Rashid Hos­pi­tal and pres­i­dent of Emi­rates Neu­rol­ogy So­ci­ety said that ‘mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis is a ris­ing con­cern in the UAE and the re­gion. It is a dif­fi­cult con­di­tion to di­ag­nose due to the com­plex­ity and vari­abil­ity of symp­toms from one per­son to the other. It can be a chal­leng­ing con­di­tion to live with.’

Few know it better than Dar­waish. Tack­ling the dis­ease for close to three decades, he has been try­ing to stay up to date with everything re­lated to the dis­ease.

‘MS is very com­mon in Europe,’ says Dar­waish. ‘Ger­many alone ac­counts for some 120,000 suf­fer­ers.’ Dr Amar Elkhal­ifa sec­onds this. ‘MS is known to oc­cur more fre­quently in coun­tries fur­ther from the Equa­tor,’ says the MS spe­cial­ist neu­rol­o­gist at Amana Health­care. ‘This may have some­thing to do with vi­ta­min D lev­els and the sup­port­ive role of vi­ta­min D on the im­mune sys­tem.’

While the cause of the dis­ease is still not clear, ex­perts be­lieve there is an in­ter­ac­tion be­tween sev­eral fac­tors. ‘Im­muno­logic, en­vi­ron­men­tal, in­fec­tions and ge­net­ics play a ma­jor role in caus­ing the dis­ease,’ says the doc­tor. Ac­cord­ing to him, the con­di­tion is more com­mon among women. ‘Some stud­ies sug­gest a ra­tio of 3:1,’ says Dr Amar, who was co-di­rec­tor of the Mul­ti­ple Scle­ro­sis Cen­tre at Mount Auburn Hos­pi­tal in Cam­bridge, Mas­sachusetts, an af­fil­i­ated hos­pi­tal of Har­vard Med­i­cal School.

So is there a rise in the num­ber of MS cases in the UAE?

‘I can’t say if there is a rise in num­ber but I can say for sure that more people with the dis­ease get di­ag­nosed be­cause of mul­ti­ple rea­sons in­clud­ing in­creased aware­ness of the dis­ease among the pub­lic and physi­cians,

‘MS is a ris­ing con­cern in the UAE and the re­gion. It is a DIF­FI­CULT con­di­tion to di­ag­nose due to the com­plex­ity and vari­abil­ity of SYMP­TOMS from one per­son to the other.’

in­creased ac­cess to health­care and avail­abil­ity of so­phis­ti­cated imag­ing and in­ves­tiga­tive tools like mag­netic res­o­nance imag­ing,’ he says. Dar­waish would agree. When he first ex­pe­ri­enced a symp­tom of the dis­ease – numb­ness in his legs – way back in 1988, few doc­tors recog­nised it as MS. ‘I was in my 20s, very ac­tive… ac­tu­ally a hy­per­ac­tive ath­lete,’ says Dar­waish. ‘I used to play foot­ball, was into weightlift­ing, taek­wondo and the mar­tial arts. I used to run 10K ev­ery day.’

Then one morn­ing he woke up to find his left leg was numb from his toes to just be­low his knee. ‘I got up and walked around for some time and the numb­ness dis­ap­peared,’ he says. But it re­curred ev­ery time he rested his legs for an ex­tended pe­riod of time.

A few weeks later, he found that even af­ter walk­ing around, the numb­ness re­fused to dis­ap­pear. ‘I con­sulted a doc­tor, then a neu­rospe­cial­ist, but they could not pin­point the rea­son.’

The numb­ness lasted a month, then dis­ap­peared, re­cur­ring a year later to worry the young man again for a month. This pat­tern was re­peated for around five years un­til in 1993 he found that the numb­ness per­sisted even af­ter a month.

The loss of sen­sa­tion that ear­lier had been only up to his calf, rose to past his thigh, his waist then up to his mid-chest. ‘Strangely I wasn’t wor­ried. But I wanted to know what was hap­pen­ing to my body,’ says Dar­waish. ‘I couldn’t walk fast or run and had to drag my left leg a bit.’ Lit­tle did the IT engi­neer know that he was ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a com­mon symp­tom of MS.

‘The dis­ease can present as one or mul­ti­ple neu­ro­log­i­cal symp­toms like, but not limited to, loss of vi­sion, dou­ble vi­sion, weak­ness of the limbs, sen­sory symp­toms, dif­fi­culty with walk­ing, pain and fa­tigue,’ says Dr Amar.

A year af­ter the symp­toms had wors­ened, Dar­waish vis­ited a hos­pi­tal in Ger­many where af­ter un­der­go­ing a

26 Reg­u­lar ex­er­cise, hav­ing a healthy or­ganic diet plus a huge dose of pos­i­tiv­ity are fac­tors that are help­ing Dar­waish over­come the chal­lenge

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