Plans to introduce pen injection for Multiple Sclerosis patients back on track
Procedures to introduce pen injections for patients suffering from Multiple Sclerosis (MS) should be concluded shortly, and will be distributed to patients once the previous formulation is exhausted, The Malta Independent is informed.
At present, most MS sufferers have to self inject with a traditional needle and syringe. The pen administered injection is much more comfortable and less painful.
Former Health Minister Godfrey Farrugia initiated the process to introduce the pen injection back in 2013. The process was almost finalised, and MS patients were told they would soon be able to start using it. However, following Dr Farrugia’s resignation last March, the whole process was paused. Members of the local MS society who spoke with this newspaper said they made an inquiry about the issue with parliamentary secretary Chris Fearne, who claimed he knew nothing about this form of medication, or procedures to introduce it locally. However, according to the ministry of health, the procedure is now back on track.
Avonex Pen facilitates the process in two ways. First, it is self-administered, meaning patients will not need assistance from a medical professional. Second, a needle does not need to be injected in one’s body. Instead, this is replaced by a click.
The introduction of the pen injection serves as good news for patients who expressed the wish for such treatment. One patient who moved to Malta from Italy has been contacting the department of health inquiring when it will be available.
In Malta, around 260 individuals suffer from MS, an unpredictable disease that disrupts the flow of information within the brain and body. This may cause the nerves themselves to deteriorate, a process which is irreversible. Victims of MS may share the same disease, but signs and symptoms differ widely from one person to the next.
The disease may affect anyone between the ages of 20 and 40. Symptoms may include blurred vision, exhaustion, lack of coordination, tingling, weakness in limbs, and loss of balance. There is no cure for MS, however treatment modifies the course of the disease, avoids relapses and controls the pain.
Some need to be injected with medication every week, but others need the medication every other day. The medication currently available in Malta is an intramuscular injection. Patients who are unable to self-inject need visit the hospital every so often.
Fast track procurement of medicines
Over the past months the department of health fast tracked procurement of other medicines for MS patients, which had been approved since 2012, but never procured. The long-awaited fingolimod has finally been procured, alongside two other new drugs, teriflunomid and dimethylfumarate. The latter, was only approved for use by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence in the UK last month, while it has been available in Malta since early 2014. The department of health commits itself that these two latter medications will remain available to MS sufferers in the most cost-effective form available on the market.
‘I was admitted to hospital half paralysed’
The Malta Independent spoke to MS patient, Elena*. Elena started limping at the age of 18. At the time, she used to train athletics, and doctors blamed it on cartridge injury. After she gave birth to her first child, she started seeing double. Elena used to teach for a living, and doctors blamed her blurred vision on the chalk teachers used at the time. “At one time, I was admitted to hospital half paralysed. Another time, I lost my eyesight for a whole month.”
It was only at 31 that she was diagnosed with MS. 27 years ago, the only option for MS was steroids, and however, users faced severe side effects. Today, she injects herself every other day. This stabilises the pain, however she still faces challenges on a day to day basis. Every task she needs to carry out requires five times the effort it would for a normal person. She manages an office job; however she suffers from severe fatigue. Her boss however, is very understanding. She does comment however, that this is not the case for everyone. “It’s a constant battle; people are still very unaware of the disease, and often at times, intolerant.”
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