29 April 2001
By Tom Peterkin Health Correspondent
Scotland on Sunday today launches a campaign to raise awareness of multiple sclerosis (MS) - the distressing condition which affects 10,400 Scots.
The campaign, which will highlight the issues and difficulties faced by people with MS, their families and carers, has been endorsed by the MS Society Scotland and its patron, the author JK Rowling.
Rowling’s moving account of her mother’s battle with the disease sparked a huge response last week. In an exclusive article for Scotland on Sunday, the creator of Harry Potter described how she watched her mother deteriorate until her untimely death at the age of 45.
The author drew attention to the fact, for reasons which scientists are yet to explain, Scots are more likely to contract MS than any other nation in the world, but that despite this, Scotland has one of the poorest records for MS treatment in Europe.
Over the next few weeks, Scotland on Sunday will conduct a wide-ranging investigation which will examine the care available to people with MS on the National Health Service, the standard of care in a social setting and issues of discrimination by employers against those with the disease.
It will also look at potential treatments and the availability of drugs such as Beta interferon, which can slow down the disease in around 15-20% of patients. Beta interferon is still not available on the NHS in some parts of the country, even though it is estimated that it would cost the NHS £7m to give the drug to every person with MS who would benefit from it.
The campaign will scrutinise the Scottish Executive and the UK government’s record on MS, identifying key areas where the administrations are failing.
It will also challenge a number of myths about the disease, from the regular trumpeting of so-called ‘miracle cures’ to the belief that everybody with MS suffers the same symptoms.
Rowling, who admitted last week that her experience of her mother’s death was tinged with bitterness at the poor quality of care available, welcomed the campaign, saying: "As patron of the Multiple Sclerosis Society, Scotland, I welcome Scotland on Sunday’s campaign. I hope it will have a lasting effect in raising awareness of the issues surrounding this disease."
Mark Hazelwood, Director of the MS Society added: "For too long this puzzling and sometimes devastating disease has been ignored. Until we find a cure, our goal is that Scotland should set world standards of care."
Multiple sclerosis is a complex disorder of the nerve fibres of the brain and spinal cord. There are many forms of the disease, in which scarring - or sclerosis - replaces myelin, a substance which normally insulates the nerves and speeds electrical conduction through the fibres.
People with MS experience problems ranging from clumsiness to numbness and disturbance of vision. One of the most alarming aspects of MS is its unpredictability: while some people with MS will undergo rapid physical change, leading to them being almost immobilised, others will experience cycles of relapse and remission and escape relatively lightly over decades. At the other end of the spectrum, a small minority may progress to severe debilitation and die.
In this country, more than 200 people per 100,000 of population have MS, compared with 120 people per 100,000 in the south of England. And while worldwide the disease appears more common the further north you travel, Scotland still has a greater prevalence than the Nordic nations. MS is also more likely to strike women than men, with three women affected for every two men.
At the moment it is thought likely that MS is caused by an as-yet unknown combination of genetic and environmental factors. Studies into potential links with diet, vegetation, pollutants, toxins, climate and geology have attempted to identify important clues in the quest to understand the disease.
Scotland on Sunday’s investigation will start next week by examining in detail the research being carried out into the causes of MS.