Twenty-five-year-old Henan Solomon is from Addis Ababa in Ethiopia but she was studying Aeronautical Engineering at Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics in China when, in 2017, she started experiencing symptoms of MS. She spent more than a year trying to get diagnosed and is now facing challenges in accessing treatment.

Multiple Sclerosis is not a common disease in China, so when Henan first visited her doctor with symptoms such as blurred vision and foot drop she was prescribed Citicoline Sodium Capsules, which is a common treatment for strokes and Yinxingtongzhi Fensanpian, which is used for dizziness. She took this medication for six months.

When these treatments had no impact on her symptoms she consulted a neurologist, who misdiagnosed her brain lesions as tumours and set her on course for radiotherapy. After researching more about her symptoms, Henan began to suspect she had MS, not cancer, and so she rejected the radiotherapy and returned to Ethiopia: “Imagine the impact it would have had on my life to have a treatment of this kind that was not at all related to my illness?”

On her return to Addis Ababa, her parents took her to visit a neurologist who had spent many years studying and working in the US. Within a month of being back in Ethiopia an MS diagnosis had been confirmed. From there it has been a long process of trying to access treatment. There are limited MS treatments available in Ethiopia, where just 26 people have an MS diagnosis, so Henan’s neurologist suggested she travel to America to secure treatment there.

While she was trying to organise her travel to America, Henan returned to her studies in China. She has paused her aeronautical engineering studies as the stress of this level of study was making her symptoms worse. She switched to a Chinese language course but her tutors have said she can return to her original studies when she is ready.

For almost two years now, Henan has been trying to secure a medical visa but her application has been rejected twice because of the bank statements she has presented: “My travel to the US and hotel costs when I am there are not a problem but you have to show that you have at least $30,000 in the bank to cover the treatment costs, which are very, very expensive. I am hoping to get sponsorship so I can present the right bank statements and paperwork to get my visa next time.”

Because of COVID-19 Henan has returned to Ethiopia and her travel plans have been delayed. This is proving frustrating and increasing her fears about how her MS may develop. She is connected to other young people in Addis Ababa who have MS and she has seen how their illness has progressed: “Some have to be carried to the toilet, others are in a wheelchair or using crutches. That makes you fear for your future, especially not being able to get any kind of medication. I won’t know what my situation is going to bring in any minute, any hour, any day. Watching others is seeing a reality of my own.”