Expert roundtable featuring top healthcare professionals discussed the autoimmune disease that can cause short-term to permanent disability

 Pfizer has hosted an expert roundtable to highlight the disease burden of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) in South Africa. Dr. Ingrid Louw, Rheumatologist, Panorama Medical Centre and Dr. Elsa Van Duuren, Rheumatologist, Jacaranda Hospital, interacted with media professionals to share medical insights on the condition alongside the latest clinical advances that seek to achieve better patient outcomes.

RA is an autoimmune disease, where the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s own tissues, with some patients already having manifestations of joint damage as early as three months after the onset of RA symptoms, with most people developing joint damage within two years.

Dr. Ingrid Louw, Rheumatologist, Panorama Medical Centre said, “RA affects the small joints of the hand, wrist, and feet before affecting larger joints and if left untreated can cause deformity and disability. With debilitating symptoms that include pain and stiffness, people with RA are seen to have lowered functional status. Healthcare professionals, general physicians and rheumatologists need to identify RA early and commence appropriate therapy as soon as possible.

RA predominantly affects women but small studies[1] in countries including South Africa has showed a high male to female ratio that was inconsistent with global trends.

Dr. Elsa Van Duuren, Rheumatologist, Jacaranda Hospital added, “ Treatment of RA is ideally done as soon as possible when the patient starts with disease symptoms, but at any stage, the aim is to get the disease into remission or to have minimal signs and symptoms. This is to 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. Adequate treatment is also important to try to prevent or lessen the severity of co-morbidities, particularly cardiovascular disease, which is still a major cause of mortality in these 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.”

Dr. Bha Ndungane-Tlakula, Country Medical Director, Pfizer South Africa commented, “We want to work closely with the healthcare community to ensure earlier diagnosis, increased patient access and medication adherence. RA patients have been reported to experience losses in function both at work and socially, posing considerable costs to quality of life and also the economy due to sick leave and work-related disability.”

Age-standardized prevalence rates of RA in South Africa has been identified to be lower than the global average of 246.6 per 100,000 people at 231.1 per 100,000.