Side effects, high treatment costs a major challenge for patients
Potential side effects and cost of drugs are two major factors Dr Stacy Davis, president of the Lupus Foundation of Jamaica, has highlighted as contributors to low compliance to treatment among lupus patients.
Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease in which the body's immune system becomes hyperactive and attacks normal, healthy tissue. This results in symptoms such as inflammation, swelling, and damage to joints, skin, kidneys, blood, the heart, and lungs.
In recognition of Lupus Month, which is celebrated in October, Davis said avenues need to be created that will help patients absorb the high costs that usually come with treating the disease.
"There is some shock, but I think the bigger issues for compliance are, one, the toxicity of the drugs. For example, most persons with kidney disease from lupus require high doses of steroids and this can then lead to other problems such as the development of diabetes, high blood pressure, physical changes in terms of the weight. So there is the issue of treating one thing and then the patient develops other issues. So that is a big problem," she said.
"In addition, in order to save the kidneys, we use strong immune drugs, and these tend to be expensive. The studies have shown that for persons of colour, mycophenolate (drugs) works best for those persons and the average cost of that drug is $40,000 per month."
Davis said it is further compounded by the fact that treatment for the condition is not covered by the National Health Fund (NHF).
"It's very expensive, which the average Jamaican cannot afford. I would have a hard time as a doctor affording it. Sometimes patients stretch the medicine; they take it, but they are not taking the required amount. It can be really difficult," she shared.
"There's another medication that is not as expensive, but we are still talking about $20,000 per month, which is still expensive. What you don't want is the patient not to take the medicine and then end up needing dialysis treatment because that cost will definitely triple."
The consultant rheumatologist strongly suggested that people inform themselves and always seek professional help when symptoms emerge.