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Health correspondent Samantha Poling
"Thousands of sufferers in the US say they have benefited from bee sting therapy"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 2 May, 2000, 15:07 GMT 16:07 UK
Bees provide relief for MS victims
Kelly Ames, bee sting
Kelly Ames prepares to sting herself with bee venom
Scotland's multiple sclerosis sufferers are turning to a controversial method of pain relief because they are unable to get hold of one of the disease's most effective prescription drugs.

The country has the highest incidence of MS in the world but it has the lowest prescription rates for the expensive beta-interferon.

The scarcity of the drug has lead some sufferers to turn to a drastic measure - making bees deliberately sting them.


Protester
Protesters lobbied the House of Commons
Although the drug is known to slow down the disease in some patients, only 1.5% of sufferers receive it in Scotland.

The lack of availability is believed to be linked to where people live.

Post-code prescribing has for years meant medicines in many areas never see the light of day.

Scotsman George Henderson was told he had MS 10 years ago, but for all of that time he has been refused beta-interferon.

The 48-year-old is so desperate for treatment he is about to embark on the controversial bee sting therapy.

Bee sting treatment

It is common in the United States and involves sufferers stinging themselves up to 30 times a day with the bee's venom which is said to slow down the disease, in a way similar to that of using beta interferon.

Kelly Ames has been stinging herself with bees for a few years.

Before she began using the therapy her eyesight was deteriorating and she struggled to walk. Now she can see normally and can ride a bike.

She said: "The first thing I felt was energy in the first three months. then my eyesight improved and after that my legs started to get stronger.

"But I still have MS, this is not a cure."

Stinging yourself with bees is drastic, but many use the therapy because they are unable to get hold of beta interferon.

A poll commissioned by the MS Society suggested that nine out of 10 neurologists wanted to be able to prescribe the drug.

Respite care

At the beginning of March more than 1,000 MS sufferers lobbied their MPs to demand access to the best treatments.

Organisers said the protest was meant to expose the failure of the NHS to give them both the drugs and other therapies they need.

Sufferers complain about having to struggle to receive specialist nursing care, physiotherapy, pain control treatment and respite care.

MS is a complex disease of the nervous system which impairs the brain's ability to transmit instructions to the muscles.

One person may partially lose their sight while another the use of their legs. As the disease progresses, the symptoms increase both in number and become more severe.

Around 10,000 Scots suffer from the debilitating condition, however, it is not understood why the figure is so high.

The Multiple Sclerosis Society Scotland is currently funding a 1m research project to try and come up with some answers.

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See also:

07 Mar 00 | Health
MS patients in Commons protest
01 Mar 00 | Health
Cannabis 'helps MS sufferers'
10 Dec 99 | Health
MS drug 'should be restricted'
09 Sep 99 | Health
Race against time for MS drug
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