Multiple sclerosis is a chronic illness that affects the lives of over 2.3 million people globally. There is no proven cause and, for now, no known cure. It is a debilitating, progressive, and largely misunderstood illness that greatly affects the lives of those who have it.
The Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Society of Bermuda is set to hold its Medical Symposium at the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute on the 14th and 15th of October. The goal? To enlighten both the public and medical professionals on best supporting those afflicted by MS.
For those living with MS in Bermuda, accessing local care has historically been a challenge. Biologics, like Ocrevus and Tysabri, provide a ray of hope. However, until recently, these drugs were not administered on the island, forcing patients to make frequent, costly trips to US clinics. This not only put significant strain on their health, but also their finances. A single overseas infusion is estimated to cost around $85,000 BMD.
In response to this challenge, various healthcare providers and stakeholders came together to find a solution. The saying “it takes a village”, comes to mind. Our local care coordination team, Thrive Case Management, partnered with our overseas care team, One Team Health. Together, they collaborated with local pharmacies, overseas specialists, local providers and patients to facilitate on-island care. The resulting initiative, the Specialty Drug Programme, was launched by Argus in 2019. Its aim was not just to bring these expensive medications to Bermuda but also to enhance the quality of care and reduce costs for MS patients. As a result, patients now have the flexibility to undergo initial infusions in hospitals, either local or overseas, and continue their treatments closer to home. This was especially crucial during the COVID-19 pandemic, enabling MS patients to initiate or maintain their treatments when overseas travel became challenging.
With this combined community effort, we saw the total cost of an infusion case cost drop by about $70,000 BMD in one case. That brought it down to approximately $15,000 BMD – a far cry from the original $85,000. Beyond financial relief, it has been heartwarming to witness its transformative impact. One patient, who wishes to remain anonymous, expressed, "For the first time since my diagnosis, I feel like I have my life back."
But this is not just about medications or treatments. It’s about the collective. The community’s effort led to a cost reduction, making treatments more accessible. I hope that by sharing this strategy with the community, many more local providers will emulate it.
Dr. Arlene Basden of the Bermuda Medical Specialties Group provides medical supervision for MS patients in the Specialty Drug Programme, and emphasises early detection and awareness, especially among young women. "We have to have a high rate of suspicion for a young woman presenting with new neurological symptoms," she urges. She also speaks to the broader need for coordinated care, a sentiment echoed by many in the medical community.
An MS patient provided a poignant account of her journey, praising the collective effort, "The newfound accessibility to treatments has significantly improved my quality of life. The supportive community around me, including professionals like Dr. Basden, has been invaluable."
Angela Cotterill, Vice President of the MS society, is acutely aware of the specific hardships MS patients face: “Many newly diagnosed individuals naturally tend to isolate themselves as they come to terms with how this chronic illness may impact their lives, but this is the exact time when networking with others who are living the same life, can really provide the critical support needed. In Bermuda, our specific challenges are compounded by our climate. For many MS patients here, our heat and humidity act as their 'kryptonite', intensifying symptoms which can include one or a combination of, mobility issues, vision loss, cognitive impairment, pain and fatigue, to name a few.” She also emphasises the urgent need for specialised, locally-based care and calls for more collaboration with insurance companies.
In essence, combatting MS, whether in Bermuda or globally, demands a collective spirit. It's about a community coming together, pooling resources, sharing knowledge, and most importantly, offering support. We can make monumental strides in enhancing the lives of all affected by MS.
To learn more about multiple sclerosis in Bermuda or to attend the free MS Medical Symposium, visit www.mssociety.bm.