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Kenya ponders local manufacture of neural drugs to cut price

The Health Ministry is in talks with stakeholders to begin local production of drugs for treatment of multiple sclerosis in the country.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a condition that affects the brain and spinal cord, causing a wide range of symptoms, including visual impairment, arm or leg movement, sensation or balance.

It’s a lifelong condition that can sometimes cause serious disability, although it can occasionally be mild.

In many cases, it’s possible to treat symptoms. Average life expectancy is slightly reduced for people with MS.

The ministry has already formed committees to discuss and provide recommendations on price control and local production which are targeted towards reducing the price of the medicines.

The ministry is further advocating for taxation incentives to make all essential products affordable and easier to produce locally.

This follows a petition by MS patients led by Marion Juma, an advocate of the High court.

The group had petitioned the Senate Health Committee last year demanding that the Senate initiates a subsidy on medicine to make them affordable.

Juma was lucky to undergo a stem cell transplant in Mexico in 2017.

The process costs between Sh4.5 million to Sh6 million, making it unaffordable to ordinary Kenyans affected by the condition.

Experts estimate that an MS patient on immune suppressants require at least six vials in a month, each goes for Sh250,000.

This means a patient requires at least Sh1.2 million for drugs alone.

The patients also wanted the Senate to intervene and ensure that they are more and qualified MS specialists in all hospitals especially county referral hospitals.

The group noted that Kenya has only 18 MS specialists who are all based in Nairobi.

They said this poses a challenge to patients in the rural areas who have to travel long distances to seek treatment.

Health CAS Rashid Aman in his submissions to the Senate Friday last week acknowledged that the actual burden of the disease has not been fully established despite notable prevalence of the condition in Kenya.

He said there’s need to increase awareness and strengthen the health systems to diagnose and provide appropriate management.

“The lead specialist needed to support treatment of the condition is the neurologist who are currently available mainly in Level 5 and 6 facilities,” Aman said.

“The ministry recognizes the shortage of the specialists in general and one of the measures undertaken is through the Kenyan Cuban project of increasing specialist services in Kenya,” he added.

According to the CAS, three neurologists and three ophthalmologists were recruited to provide services at the county referral hospitals.

He said the ministry is also taking steps to strengthen rehabilitation services in the country including scaling up the services to primary health care facilities to increase access.

He said plans are also on to train more physiotherapists, occupational therapists, language and speech therapists among others in skills needed to provide quality services.

The MS patients also want to be recognized as people living with disability and be exempted from taxation as well as for NHIF to cover their medical expenses.

“Due to lack of awareness of this rare condition, some patients have missed out on job opportunities because employers always assume they have appeared for an interview while drunk because they might be shaking,” Syovata Ndambuki said.

They also want more money allocated to for awareness campaigns for government and private sector to understand the condition and the management of patients.

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