Worldwide Prevalence of Multiple Sclerosis Is on the Rise

A worldwide survey conducted by the Multiple Sclerosis International Federation has discovered that 2.3 million people around the globe currently live with multiple sclerosis (MS) - a 10 percent increase in the autoimmune disease's prevalence since 2008.

A worldwide survey conducted by the Multiple Sclerosis International Federation has discovered that 2.3 million people around the globe currently live with multiple sclerosis (MS) — a 10 percent increase in the autoimmune disease’s prevalence since 2008. Though the survey found MS in every region of the world, the pervasiveness of the disease greatly varies. Nevertheless, the fact that twice as many women are affected by MS as men hasn’t significantly changed since 2008.

Using data gathered by the survey, the Atlas of MS 2013 report shows that MS is most common in North America and Europe, with 140 and 108 cases per 100,000 people, respectively. In sub-Saharan Africa, the MS rate is 2.1 per 100,000 people.

The atlas confirmed that MS is more prevalent in countries located at high latitudes, given that Sweden has the highest MS rate in Europe, and Argentina has more MS cases than other country in Latin America. While there’s no proven cause for the association between latitude and MS, some researchers have suggested that greater exposure to sunlight may reduce the frequency of the disease.

The MS survey also uncovered a large increase in the number of medical personnel who are trained to diagnose the disease and assist with its treatment. But while the number of neurologists has increased by 30 percent since 2008, high-income countries have 100 times the number of neurologists per capita in low-income ones. On a brighter note, the number of MRI machines available for MS diagnostic scans has doubled in emerging nations.

Even so, enormous disparities still exist in terms of patient access to drugs that are currently used to treat MS — especially in relation to the newer oral medications that present effective alternatives to older injectable drugs, because those medications aren’t available at a subsidized cost in low—income nations. In fact, neither oral nor injectable disease-modifying medications are available through government programs in low-income countries. In contrast, injectable MS drugs are fully or partly funded in the vast majority of high-income countries.