Since 2012 MSIF has been working with MS organisations in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) to address challenges faced by people affected by MS across the region. MSIF’s Organisational Development and Movement Building (ODMB) team visited Egypt and Jordan in the autumn to attend MENACTRIMS and meet local organisations. Douna Haj Ahmed, MSIF’s ODMB officer, shares trip highlights and reflects on the power of regional collaboration.
The visit began with The Middle East North Africa Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis (MENACTRIMS). The 2022 MENACTRIMS congress was a special gathering. It had been three years since many of the MS organisations we work with across the region had a chance to meet in person. Before the congress MSIF held several training sessions to upskill our MENA network in advocacy and build regional connections. We had online attendees from participants from MS organisations in Morocco, Tunisia, Yemen, Bahrain, Lebanon, Algeria, Palestinian Authority, Egypt, UAE, Kuwait, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Syria. MENATCRIMS 2022 was a chance for these individuals to meet each other in person exchange ideas and share experiences.
During the Congress, MSIF held a symposium during which MSIF’s Chair, Prof. Dr Mai Sharawy, presented how MSIF supports global MS research and access efforts. Dr Magd Zakaria, an eminent neurologist in Egypt, relayed Egypt’s experience in making DMTs available and affordable for all. Dr Raed Alroughani, from Kuwait, held a Q&A on critical research updates from the MENACTRIMS Congress 2022. It was a useful opportunity to share new developments and think about what is possible for the future.
A trip to Cairo
On 14 and 15 November 2022 I visited MS Care Egypt situated in Cairo to learn more about its many activities. MS Care is a well-established organisation and has a significant role in the region for the MS movement. Its work and strategy are progressing, and many organisations are learning and benefitting from its experience including as its work around better access to MS treatments.
One of the essential services that MS Care organises is a psychological support team available to support people affected by MS. This team reaches out to those newly diagnosed with MS to answer questions, organising regular sessions with people with MS to speak about any concerns and how to overcome them.
I also attended an MS awareness-raising event at Future University in Cairo to see some of the education activities MS Care organises first-hand. This activity was organised by MS Care Egypt and MS Journey, an emerging team to support people with MS. It simulated different MS symptoms through tools like glasses that blur vision and socks to illustrate numbness or a tingling sensation in the fingers or toes.
The president of the university attended the event, and expressed the university’s willingness to help students with MS. This activity was a success, leading to many follow up questions about MS from the student body. It was brilliant to see a community event run by MS Care in action, putting MS in the spotlight.
Activities in Amman
The next engagement visit took place in Jordan with the Jordanian MS Society in November 2022. I visited Amman to learn more about the society’s activities and how it can be more involved within MS regional work. The Jordanian MS Society has established an MS Care Centre that serves people with MS in Jordan and is working now on copying this experience in more cities in Jordan. This was shared widely with the region by the president of the Jordanian MS Society as the society was added to the regional network after the visit.
I visited the headquarters of the Jordanian MS Society to meet volunteers with MS who shared their experiences living with MS. They highlighted the impact that the MS care centre has had on their lives, providing rehabilitation and psychological support. There was interest in MSIF’s main project about global access to treatment, and how they can be involved.
During the visit, I was fortunate enough to meet with several public figures about MS in Jordan. One of the meetings was with Honorary Society President Princess Alia Tabba about the MS situation in the country and how MSIF can support the MS Jordanian Society. I also had the opportunity to meet the Jordanian Minister of Health and discuss the possibility of expanding MS centres to other cities outside the capital. The Minister pledged his support which was a really positive sign.
One of the most important things I learned from these two regional visits is how innovative both organisations are in supporting people with MS with the available resources. These visits were a great way to get to know the work of the organisations better and learn from their long experience in helping people with MS. They were also a very important way to learn new ways to involve local organisations with MSIF’s work, and build stronger partnerships across the MENA region.