A new report by the Conference Board of Canada’s Canadian Alliance for Sustainable Health Care (CASHC) notes that employers and the Canadian government are not giving enough support towards increasing workforce participation among patients with multiple sclerosis (MS), despite the clear benefits such support would mean to not only the well-being of individuals affected by the condition but also the economy.
The report, titled “Multiple Sclerosis in the Workplace: Supporting Successful Employment Experiences,” aimed to describe the MS experience in Canada, and to report the success of strategies aiming to improve the workplace impact of the condition.
MS is a significant health and economic issue in Canada. According to the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada, the disease affects an estimated 100,000 Canadians — the highest prevalence of MS in the world. Decreased workforce participation by MS patients has an often harmful impact on their health and financial situation, as well as on their families and primary caregivers.
Moreover, the lost productivity associated with MS may cost the economy of the country as well. It is estimated that the overall costs of MS in Canada, for individuals and the wider economy, is $2.8 billion annually, with productivity loss accounting for about one-third of the total burden.
In the report, researchers identified strategies that patients, employers, and governments can adopt to support quality of life (QoL) and successful employment for people suffering from MS. Among the recommended approaches, the report suggests individuals with MS to communicate their diagnoses to their employers early, and ask for and use available services and resources. Recommendations for employers include the creation of a culture of trust and openness, understanding the individual’s capacities and needs, and the creation of adequate accommodations, health insurance and benefits, such as physical and occupational therapy.
Finally, the authors recommended several approaches for governments, namely improvement of employment insurance benefits to support intermittent work capacity, improvement of access to social services, creation of better support system for unpaid caregivers, and raise of funding for MS research.
“When people living with multiple sclerosis or their caregivers are unemployed or underemployed, it is often detrimental to their health and financial situation. It also has a larger overall economic impact due to lost productivity,” said Thy Dinh, Director, Health Economics, The Conference Board of Canada, in a press release. “Increasing workforce participation of individuals living with MS and their caregivers would benefit not only the individual’s well-being, but also provide significant benefits to employers, government, and society as a whole.”