April 11th marks World Parkinson’s Day, a day dedicated to raising awareness of Parkinson’s, a neurodegenerative disease which affects the region of the brain known as the substantia nigra which controls movement. There is no cure for the disease, and the treatments available only help to reduce the symptoms. World Parkinson’s Day also marks the 267th birthday anniversary of James Parkinson, the first person to identify all of the symptoms as relating to a single disease, and to whom it is also named after.
Somalia is a country without adequate health infrastructure, and it is also one of the few countries in the world where the number of people who have Parkinson’s is unknown, but there are certainly many patients living with it. iSHA interviewed Dr. Harith Shole, a neurologist at Baxnaano hospital in Mogadishu, who said, “there is no research on the disease in Somalia. Many patients visit us at our centre, where we run tests and diagnose them with Parkinson’s. Some of our patients find it difficult to accept the diagnosis, especially the younger patients. People also come to us at a time when not much can be done, because they do not consult a doctor when they first see the signs.” Dr Haarith added, “The biggest challenge we have is not getting enough medicine, on top of that it is also expensive. Somalia does not have access to international medicine, because the path to receiving medicine is difficult, for example it is difficult for medicine from Germany or the UK to reach Somalia.”
In Somalia, a country recovering from conflict and civil war, there is no national level of care for people with Parkinson’s and there are also no special centres to treat or care for people living with the disease. Dr. Harith concluded, “Due to limited supply, there is not enough available medicine to be distributed across the country. We provide our patients who come from far away regions with the medicine in Mogadishu.”
Similarly Dr. Abubakar Ali, a neurologist at Ex-Digfer Hospital, now known as the Somali-Turkish Hospital, told iSHA: “people with Parkinson’s come to our centres every day, we give them medicine to treat their symptoms since the disease does not have a cure. We receive an average of two patients a day from all regions of the country. Muscle stiffness is their main complaint, and they often arrive at a late stage when the disease has already progressed significantly.”
iSHA emphasises the need for patients as well as the general public to have awareness of Parkinson’s. As the Somali population continues to age, it is likely that this disease will become more prevalent. People should seek medical attention as soon as they experience symptoms of tremors in the arms, head, legs or limbs, and feel that their limbs are becoming stiffer as if their movement has been reduced or they have lost their balance. As people with Parkinson’s can also suffer from anxiety and depression, they must have access to the right mental health support. However, the stigma surrounding this disease in countries such as Somalia, can prevent people from receiving the support they need. Therefore iSHA strives to continue to raise awareness of Parkinson’s and other less discussed conditions within the Somali community globally, and also encourages similar organisations to do the same.