Multi-actor system dynamics in access to disease-modifying treatments for multiple sclerosis in Southeast Asia: A regional survey and suggestions for improvement

Shanthi Viswanathan, Lavanya Vijayasingham, Joanna Laurson-Doube, Amy M.L. Quek, Kevin Tan, Tianrong Yeo, Mya Mya Aye Seinn, Ohnmar Ohnmar, Riwanti Estiasari, Norazieda Yassin, Fu Liong Hiew, Paul M. Pasco, Nghia T.T. Hoang, Saysavath Keosodsay, Sasitorn Siritho, Metha Apiwattanakul, Sina Ros, Brigido Simao Dias de Deus, Rabani Remli, Suhailah AbdullahSu Yin Lim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Despite the global availability of multiple sclerosis (MS) treatments, accessing and financing them in Southeast Asia (SEA) remains a challenge. This descriptive survey-based study aimed to describe the current state of MS treatment access and local access dynamics within this region. Methods: The survey questionnaire, comprising of 15 closed-ended and five open-ended questions, was developed by three neurologists with expertise in MS and routine MS patient management, or had training in neuroimmunology. Questionnaire development was guided by the recent Atlas of MS and in alignment with the Access to Treatment framework, focusing on MS diagnosis and treatment issues in SEA. Fifteen neurologists experienced in managing MS across the region were identified as key informants for this study. Results: All fifteen neurologists participated in the survey via email and videoconferencing between January 2020 and February 2023, which included the following countries: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Lao PDR, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Timor-Leste, and Vietnam. All had at least five years of experience in managing MS patients and six had previously completed a neuroimmunology fellowship programme. SEA countries showed disparities in healthcare financing, availability of neurologists, MS treatments, and investigative tools. Access to MS disease-modifying treatments (DMTs) is hindered by high cost, lack of MS specialists, and weak advocacy efforts. On-label DMTs are not listed as essential medicines regionally except for interferon beta1a and teriflunomide in Malaysia. On-label monoclonals are available only in Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand. Generic on-label DMTs are unavailable due to lack of distributorship and expertise in using them. Off-label DMTs (azathioprine, methotrexate, and rituximab) predominate in most SEA countries. Other challenges include limited access to investigations, education, and knowledge about DMTs among general neurologists, and absence of registries and MS societies. Patient champions, communities, and MS organisations have limited influence on local governments and pharmaceutical companies. Despite its increasing prevalence, there is a lack of concerted priority setting due to MS being perceived as a rare, non-communicable disease. Conclusion: This study highlights the distinct dynamics, challenges, and research gaps within this region, and provides suggestions to improve MS diagnosis, education, and medicine access.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105555
JournalMultiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders
Publication statusPublished - May 2024


  • Access
  • Disease modifying therapy
  • Low-income countries
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Southeast Asia


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