What is #ClimbforMS?

As a personal contribution to spread awareness about Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in the UAE, I initiated the #ClimbforMS project in 2019. I know that MS is a condition that takes away a lot from a person, and affects their friends and family as well. Similar to mountain climbing, living with MS requires resilience, which is why I pledged to climbing the ‘Seven Summits’ of the world to this cause.

The ‘Seven Summits’ are comprised of the highest mountain peaks on each of the seven continents: Everest, Aconcagua, Denali, Kilimanjaro, Elbrus, Mount Vinson, and Carstensz Pyramid. I plan to finish these, with two more remaining, as part of the #ClimbforMS initiative.

How can we get involved?

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You can take part in this initiative too, doing as much as you can to support the cause for awareness. I invite anyone to climb a mountain, or stairs, walk or hike in dedication for this cause, and share their achievements by using the hashtag: #ClimbforMS.

I hope that, by all of us playing small roles in the awareness for MS, we can really make a change in the way it is perceived in the UAE and around the world.

What is MS?

Multiple Sclerosis is an autoimmune condition, which affects the brain and spinal cord. In an autoimmune condition, the body attacks itself rather than defending it, and Multiple Sclerosis does the same, attacking the healthy cells in the brain and nervous system. It affects almost 2.3 million people around the world.[i] The conditions affect women 2 to 3 times more than men and can cause permanent disability. 

Since MS is a progressive condition that affects the central nervous system (CNS) of the human body, there is no cure for it yet, but with effective medication and lifestyle, MS and its symptoms can be managed.

What causes it?

The cause for MS is still unknown, but experts believe that it could be due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. While life-threatening in some cases, MS can be managed through treating the symptoms and can help people who suffer from it to have a better quality of life. Most people living with MS can lead healthy lives, and this can be done through having a positive outlook, taking care of themselves, eating right and managing stress.

MS Global Awareness

There have been many campaigns around the world to increase awareness about Multiple Sclerosis and raise funds for its research and treatment. One of the most significant organizations is the Multiple Sclerosis International Federation (MSIF). Founded in 1967, MSIF is a combining body of many national MS societies that has done a lot to help individuals diagnosed with MS around the world. One of its greatest initiatives is the World MS Day, celebrated globally, on the 30th of May, to spread knowledge about MS.

The National MS Society in New York and MS Society UK are two of the most prominent non-profit organizations that provide platforms for people to gather and share their experiences, as well as connect as a community.

MS prevalence in the UAE

One of the main reasons that I am so passionate about spreading awareness for MS is its prevalence in the UAE. According to a study in 2007 by Inshasi and Thakre, the prevalence rate for MS in the Emirates is 54.7/100,00, which is higher than originally perceived.[ii] This rate is especially prominent in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, which takes up 87% of the total area of the UAE and 28% of the population.[iii]

According to the studies conducted in Abu Dhabi, it has been found that MS affects 64.44 out of 100,000 people, which is higher than the average rate for all of UAE.[iv] Dr Nicholine Schiess, a neurologist from John Hopkins University, has done extensive research on this rate through the four largest hospitals in Abu Dhabi, and here are some of the findings:

“Our paper demonstrated a prevalence rate of 64.4 of 100,000 Emiratis with MS in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE). The Abu Dhabi Emirati population has one of the highest, most reliable prevalence rate on the Arab peninsula.”[v]

The above chart shows the prevalence of MS in the Abu Dhabi population, based on age and sex standardization, as explained in Dr Schiess’s study. As we can see, the condition is much more common in women than men and has the average age factor of 35-39 years when it surfaces. These results are very similar to those of the US.

MS Awareness in the UAE

There is now, more than ever, a greater need for public platforms for people to talk about MS and connect with individuals going through similar experiences, and want to provide support. If you or someone you know has MS, here are some ways to reach out for support:

There is a community based large Whatsapp group, named الطاقة الإيجابية, that you can join easily through this number: 0503394449. Founded by Ahmed Al Maskari, who was a former member of the MS UAE Society, this exclusively Arabic language group allows anyone to join, to ask questions or just show their support. Although there are no medical professionals heading the discussion, the group is a great way to understand MS and increase community support and comradery.

The American Center for Psychiatry and Neurology have also been known to conduct support group and educational sessions on the topic of MS.

Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi is one of the many organizations working tirelessly for the treatment and support of individuals living with MS.

Apart from this, the Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation contributed to raising awareness during World MS Day by hosting a couple of talks, which are available of their YouTube page. The “Resilience: #LifeWithMS” talk features an expert speaker and community activists Dr. Andrew Woo, Mahmood El Belushi, and Saeed Al Habsi, while the“#StrongerThanMS” talk features Dr. Nicoline Schiess, Wendy Booker, and Maha Abbas, who share the latest research on MS, and talk about facing life stronger than ever regardless of MS challenges.

Since Multiple Sclerosis affects a large number of people in the UAE, this is why, now more than ever, efforts towards MS awareness and support need to be appreciated and cultivated, as we aim to create a better world for those living with MS.

[i] MS International Federation

[ii] Inshasi, J., Thakre, M. (2007,) Int. Journal of Neuroscience

[iii] World Health Organization (WHO)

[iv] Ahmed, Manzoor, Ruqqiya Mir, Mustafa Shakra, and Safana Al Fardan. “Multiple Sclerosis in the Emirati Population: Onset Disease Characterization by MR Imaging.” Multiple Sclerosis International 2019 (2019): 1-6. doi:10.1155/2019/7460213.

[v] Nicholine, Schiess. John Hopkins University, 2016.