By  Chioma Obinna

Healthcare professionals have called for massive awareness and management of rheumatoid arthritis to prevent disease progression, stating that early diagnosis and initiation of effective treatment improve clinical outcomes for patients with the disease.

The autoimmune experts who spoke during a virtual media roundtable hosted by Pfizer Biopharmaceutical on the ‘Prevalence and Social Burden of Rheumatoid Arthritis in Nigeria’ said the treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis, is ideally done as soon as the patient starts with disease symptoms in order to get the disease into remission or have minimal signs and symptoms.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that affects the small joints of the body.  Patients with the disorder present with pain, stiffness and warmth of the affected joints and the disease may lead to disability or premature death, if not treated early and appropriately.

Sharing medical insights on the condition, a Consultant rheumatologist, Dr Hakeem Olaosebikan, at the Lagos State University College of Medicine, explained that early management and treatment would decrease the progression of joint disease as the disease process can cause progressive damage to joints with resultant loss of function, which in many patients, will mean that they are unable to fulfil work obligations or cope with activities at home.

He said adequate treatment is also important to try to prevent or lessen the severity of co-morbidities, particularly cardiovascular disease, a major cause of mortality in rheumatoid arthritis patients. “Apart from treating the rheumatoid disease, the patient should ideally be treated by a multidisciplinary team to address many other associations of this disease which range from psychological help with anxiety and depression to guidance with physical therapy by physiotherapists or biokineticists and help with activities of daily living by occupational therapists.”   Olaosebikan said it had become imperative to raise awareness about rheumatology, as well as, enlighten the public about the management of rheumatoid arthritis as the commonest autoimmune arthritis in Nigeria.

He disclosed that one or two patients are diagnosed weekly with the disease in most tertiary hospitals.

He said the disease poses physical, psychological, and economic burdens for affected patients, their families and the healthcare system. Olaosebikan urged the government to focus on the disease, stressing the need to evolve and pass patient-friendly legislatures.

He advised Nigerians to reduce calorie and salt intake, maintain a healthy weight, avoid smoking and ensure regular exercise to strengthen joint mobility.

Speaking, a Rheumatologist from the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH,  Dr. Uyiekpan Ima-Edomwonyi, said data has shown that the burden of rheumatoid arthritis would increase in most developing countries like Nigeria.

He said along with the increase in non-communicable diseases in developing countries, an increase in Rheumatoid arthritis occurrence could stress medical services to an extent that they may be unable to cope with the fast-changing patterns of disease distribution seen in Africa currently.

The Country Medical Director, Pfizer East and West Africa, Dr. Kodjo Soroh, stated that RA remains one of the most common rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases in the region. 

He said there was hope as Pfizer is committed to raising awareness around the treatments available.

“We want to work closely with the healthcare community to ensure early diagnosis, increased patient access and medication adherence.  There is Project Afya, a patient assistance program aimed at improving access to life-saving medications and boosting cancer care and autoimmune disease management.

 In partnership with IQVIA, the platform is helping to reduce therapy costs for eligible patients as Rheumatologists identify patients for enrolment into the programme”.

Ima-Edomwonyi said that factors that would drive the disease burden include lifestyle, weight, smoking and alcohol consumption which predisposed to musculoskeletal disorders.

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