More Australians with MS, but more in work

Marnie Banger
(Australian Associated Press)


Lauren Butterly was 25 and just two years into a law career when she lost the ability to move one of her arms and was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

Although she had just moved to Sydney from Perth at the time to start a new job at major firm, a neurologist told her she should give the profession away.

But Ms Butterly wasn’t having it.

“Even though it was really tough in the first couple of months, I just kept going,” she told AAP.

Nine months later, after trying a medication that proved ineffective in helping her manage the disease, Ms Butterly found one that did and has progressed in her legal career since.

The now 33-year-old is one of a growing number of people living with MS who are staying in work, according to a new report commissioned by MS Research Australia and prepared by the Menzies Institute for Medical Research.

The report is the first in almost eight years to map the prevalence and impact in Australia of the autoimmune disease, which damages nerve fibres in the central nervous system and can lead to motor and sensory functions being impaired, along with fatigue, pain and cognitive issues.

It has found the number of people with the disease has increased 20 per cent since 2010, rising from 21,300 to 25,600 in 2017.

MS Research Australia chief executive Dr Matthew Miles says that’s likely due to people’s greater exposure to risk factors such as low Vitamin D levels.

The majority of Australians with MS have been diagnosed with what is known as the relapsing remitting form of the disease (85 per cent), while others have a progressive form (15 per cent).

The report shows the total cost of the disease has risen since 2010 from $1.24 billion to $1.75 billion.

But according Dr Miles, the rising cost bears some good news, as it marks the price of newer treatments that are improving people’s lives.

Lost wages accounted for almost half of MS costs in 2010, but now account for just 32 per cent, with Dr Miles saying that shows more people with the disease are working.

But he says this is not the time for Australia to rest on its laurels when it comes to grappling with MS.

The organisation believes the disease could become completely manageable within 10 years if greater funding is put into research and treatments.

“Now’s the time to really nail this thing,” he told AAP.

“It’s not very often you get this chance with medical diseases that are so complex and so insidious as this one is.”

While for now Ms Butterly hopes to encourage other young people diagnosed with MS to pursue their careers, she too would like to see a cure.

“If you have the cure, you’re able to have more confidence even, because you’re not worried about, for example, if the medication stops working.”


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