Throughout 2023, MS organisations in the MENA region worked together to develop the MENA Region Access to Treatment Charter (Charter). Regional access to MS treatments can be challenging with 58% of MENA countries reporting issues with continuous access to treatment, 10% higher than the global average. The Charter calls on decision makers to integrate the right to safe and effective MS treatments in policy and practice for the 124,000 people living with MS in MENA.

In 2021, improving access to MS treatment in the region was identified as a key priority. The conversation developed further during MSIF’s workshop at the 2022 Middle East North Africa Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis (MENACTRIMS) Congress.  During which 25 delegates from MS organisations in the region (Morocco, Yemen, Bahrain, Lebanon, Algeria, Palestinian Authority, Egypt, UAE, Kuwait, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia) mapped out how they could work together in this area. The discussions showed that although organisations were working in different economic contexts with disparate healthcare systems, some of the key challenges were the same.

Further interactive discussions with the organisations led to the development of a formal document, a charter. The Charter was developed to incorporate the range of regional realities and needs in one single document that could be used to call for policy change on a local, national and regional level. It would also enable the organisations to put into practice their learnings from MSIF-supported training undertaken in 2021-22.

Over the coming months, 13 MS organisations from Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Kuwait, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen, came together to share, collaborate and jointly prioritise and agree on the statements to be included in the Charter.

It was essential that the Charter statements were evidence-based and therefore the MSIF Atlas of MS, World Health Organization Intersectoral global action plan on epilepsy and other neurological disorders 2022, World Health Organization Model Lists of Essential Medicines 2023 and MENACTRIMS Guidelines were referenced.

The Charter, endorsed by MENACTRIMS and 25 MS organisations in the region, was launched in December 2023 at the Eighth MENACTRIMS Congress in Abu Dhabi, UAE. It calls on national and regional decision-makers to:

•Ensure people with MS attain the highest possible level of health, whilst protecting the dignity and autonomy of the individual

•Have a national plan and/or guidelines for the holistic healthcare of people with MS, which are regularly updated

•Ensure that pathways to care and treatment anticipate and respond to the changing needs of each person with MS

•Increase the number and support the training of a range of health professionals that provide care for people with MS

•Ensure continuous provision of a range of MS treatments, for people with MS across the whole country, and for all forms of MS including paediatric and for use during pregnancy

•Ensure high-efficacy MS treatments are available to all people with MS according to clinical need, both in public and private settings

•Ensure quality, safety and ethical standards are met for MS treatments, e.g., through transparent regulatory frameworks

•Reduce bureaucracy in the system to improve access to treatment, such as simplifying the process for repeat prescriptions

•Ensure MS treatment is affordable. Provide universal coverage for MS care and essential MS treatments, including for people who do not have private health insurance and people whose migration status may prevent them from accessing healthcare

•Improve the monitoring and reporting of core MS data through establishing or further developing national MS registries that can collect reliable information

Click here to read the full Charter.

MSIF is now working to support MS organisations in the region to initiate or scale-up national advocacy activities or projects related to one or more of the Charter’s statements through a small grants programme.