World Multiple Sclerosis Day: Malawi lacks capacity to detect the rare disease

* The disease requires high-tech MRI and immunology labs and Malawi joins efforts to end patient isolation

* Malawi requires a good immunology laboratory as currently patients are required to be sent to South Africa to confirm diagnosis

Maravi Express

As Malawi joins the commemoration of World Multiple Sclerosis Day — which falls today, May 30, one of the country’s leading neurologists Professor Macpherson Mallewa says the lack of appropriate diagnostic tools makes it difficult to effectively detect this rare chronic central nervous system disability.

Professor Macpherson Mallewa

Mallewa said the disease’s diagnosis is hugely dependent on a well-functioning magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which is a medical imaging technique used in radiology to form pictures of the anatomy and the physiological processes of the body.

The MRI scanners use strong magnetic fields, magnetic field gradients, and radio waves to generate images of the organs in the body.

Mallewa, who is also Vice-Chancellor of Kamuzu University of Health Sciences (KUHeS), said the diagnosis also requires a good immunology laboratory which Malawi does not have, saying patients are required to be sent to South Africa to confirm diagnosis.


This year’s World Multiple Sclerosis Day falls under the theme, ‘Connections’ — which aims at raising awareness on the need to integrate people with the condition and end isolation.

As part of the commemorations, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies Roche announced in a statement that it has partnered local patient organisations in Malawi and across Africa to increase awareness and address stigma.

“Roche is working across Africa to build up Multiple Sclerosis care from the ground up, starting with identifying data gaps, launching clinical trials to understand how Multiple Sclerosis affects a typical African patient and developing data registries to analyse these insights,” said the statement.

Magnetic resonance imaging required for diagnosis

Roche’s work is complementing the efforts of the Multiple Sclerosis International Federation (MSIF), which has lined up various events to build knowledge around the disease.

“By bringing about massive awareness to reach all people with Multiple Sclerosis, clinicians and therapists are creating an inclusive support structure and platform to address the burning issues of access to treatment, advocacy, epidemiology and financial support to all people living with this debilitating and incurable disease to never lose hope or feel alone –as we are stronger together,” reads the statement.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Multiple Sclerosis deaths in Malawi reached 9 or 0.01% in 2020 adding that the disease affects one in every 3,000 people in the world.

According to, multiple sclerosis is a potentially disabling disease of the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system). multiple sclerosis, the immune system attacks the protective sheath (myelin) that covers nerve fibers and causes communication problems between your brain and the rest of your body.

Eventually, the disease can cause permanent damage or deterioration of the nerves.

Its signs and symptoms vary widely and depend on the amount of nerve damage and which nerves are affected in which some people with severe MS may lose the ability to walk independently or at all, while others may experience long periods of remission without any new symptoms.

“There’s no cure for multiple sclerosis,” says Mayo Clinic. “However, treatments can help speed recovery from attacks, modify the course of the disease and manage symptoms.

“Multiple sclerosis signs and symptoms may differ greatly from person to person and over the course of the disease depending on the location of affected nerve fibers.”


Symptoms often affect movement, such as:

* Numbness or weakness in one or more limbs that typically occurs on one side of your body at a time, or your legs and trunk;

* Electric-shock sensations that occur with certain neck movements, especially bending the neck forward (Lhermitte sign);

* Tremor, lack of coordination or unsteady gait;

* Slurred speech; fatigue; dizziness;

* Tingling or pain in parts of one’s body;

* Problems with sexual, bowel and bladder function

Vision problems are also common, including:

* Partial or complete loss of vision, usually in one eye at a time, often with pain during eye movement;

* Prolonged double vision;

* Blurry vision;

“The symptoms, severity and duration can vary from person to person. Some people may be symptom free for most of their lives, while others can have severe, chronic symptoms that never go away,” says Mayo Clinic.