Professor Kazuo Fujihara, President, PACTRIMS
Dr Amy Quek, Chairperson, Local Organising Committee
Ladies and Gentlemen
It is my pleasure to be here at the 14th Congress of the Pan-Asian Committee for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis (PACTRIMS).
2. It has been three years since PACTRIMS has taken place physically. I warmly welcome our overseas delegates and speakers who have travelled to Singapore to join us for this event.
3. Over the next few days, there will be discussions on important trends and advances in the field of multiple sclerosis and related disorders. These dialogues are important to advance our common goals in improving treatments and outcomes for our patients in the Asia Pacific region.
Taking care of patients with multiple sclerosis during COVID-19
4. Across the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has placed a tremendous strain on healthcare systems and healthcare professionals. In Singapore, the Ministry of Health (MOH) works closely with healthcare institutions, government agencies and the private sector to treat and vaccinate our local population to reduce the risk of severe infection, especially among vulnerable and immunocompromised individuals.
5. We are fortunate in Singapore to have a close-knit community of neuroimmunology healthcare professionals who have been a pillar of support for patients with multiple sclerosis and related disorders. Even amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, these patients continued to receive close medical care and attention. Our neuroimmunology healthcare professionals continued to have regular virtual meetings to discuss complex cases and kept themselves up to date with emerging trends in this field, to ensure that patients continued to receive appropriate medical care during the pandemic. They provided input and assisted with guidelines in treating and vaccinating patients for COVID-19 infection. Such efforts by the neuroimmunology healthcare community are truly commendable.
MS / NMO treatment landscape and access to treatment
6. Certain core issues in the field of multiple sclerosis and related disorders include early diagnosis of the disease and access to treatment. The field of multiple sclerosis, neuromyelitis optica and related disorders has progressed significantly, from the initial years of limited disease recognition, late diagnosis, and inadequate treatment options, to updated diagnostic criteria, biomarkers, and novel treatment options. Today, we face more sophisticated challenges of refining diagnostic criteria and personalising treatment. Multiple sclerosis and neuromyelitis optica generally affect the adult population, some of whom are starting their working careers and families. With advancement in research in the field of multiple sclerosis, we have seen the introduction of newer therapies in the market.
7. Given the rising healthcare costs, it is imperative that patients continue to have access to clinically effective and affordable treatments. In Singapore, the Agency for Care Effectiveness (ACE) was set up in August 2015 to drive appropriate care and ensure sustainable healthcare as part of MOH’s larger effort to move beyond quality to value. ACE provides independent evidence-based evaluations of drugs and medical therapies and technologies to inform funding decisions. ACE’s evaluations have supported subsidy listing for some treatments. This has improved affordability, ensuring that subsidised patients will have access to clinically and cost-effective medication that can improve significantly their disease outcomes. Future scientific research efforts by the research community should be targeted at enhancing the affordability and access to medications to benefit the greater population, especially in under resourced communities.
Patient support and advocacy
8. Apart from their healthcare providers, support groups play an important role in helping patients with chronic debilitating diseases. One such example in Singapore is MS Care Group, a charity and support group that was founded in 2003. Since its inception, MS Care has been raising awareness of multiple sclerosis in Singapore and has built a community of support for patients with multiple sclerosis. MS Care partners with NUHS Fund Limited to organise fundraising events for patients with multiple sclerosis. During the COVID-19 pandemic, they continued to provide support for patients with multiple sclerosis by organising virtual events which covered educational topics, such as mental health and vaccinations. These events were well received, and patients appreciated the outreach and support while they had to stay at home at the peak of the pandemic. This year, as part of World MS Day, MS Care partnered Tower Transit Singapore to conduct a Public Bus Confidence Course, to empower patients with multiple sclerosis and physical disabilities to gain confidence and skills in navigating our public transport system.
9. In addition to these outreach efforts, MS Care has recently been involved in co-developing multiple sclerosis educational materials with ACE. Their members provided valuable insights that helped to improve the usefulness and relevance of these resources for patients.
10. In closing, PACTRIMS is a valuable platform that facilitates the exchange of ideas and information. May this be a meeting that helps to forge partnerships and collaborations with patients. I wish you a successful and enriching conference ahead. Thank you.