Malta should formally recognise fibromyalgia and Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) as a disability, a group of people suffering from the conditions has urged the government.
“Governments in Malta have been ignoring our pleas for over 10 years,” the ME, CFS and Fibromyalgia Alliance said.
“By not recognising us as invisible disabilities, this is leaving many to fall into poverty, depression and desperate without an income.”
“We’re unable to afford medication, vitamins and proper nutrition to help alleviate symptoms.”
They warned that this has left several women and men stuck in abusive relationships, unable to leave because they lack financial freedom.
The Alliance estimates that around 40% of fibromyalgia sufferers and 75% of ME sufferers are housebound and unable to work, while 25% of ME sufferers are bed bound and 3% of them die.
“They are truly devastating for both the sufferers and their loved ones alike, as little help can be found in Malta. Not enough is known amongst medical specialists to properly diagnose and give adequate treatments as the Government refuses to accept us as a disability.”
Fibromyalgia is a disorder characterised by widespread pain, accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues while sufferers also experience high sensitivity to pain and may also suffer from migraines and irritable bowel syndrome.
ME is a complex multi-system condition that causes dysfunction of the neurological, immune, endocrine and energy metabolism systems, leaving its sufferers completely depleted, unable to function, in pain, and dependent on other people.
Both conditions have different levels of severities and remain something of a medical mystery as they can’t be detected with scans or blood tests and many doctors don’t even recognise them as actual conditions.
Yet the Alliance estimates that around 4-6% of Malta’s population suffers from one of these two conditions, an estimated 75-85% of whom are women.
In 2019, the Maltese government announced sickness benefits for fibromyalgia and ME sufferers, which was hailed by many in the community as a first step towards formal recognition.
However, the Alliance warned that in practice, the benefits system only entitles them to around €100 a month, which is nowhere near enough to cover their medication, supplements, treatment, and doctors’ appointments.
Meanwhile, means-testing limits the aid to households with only one breadwinner (ie. the fibromyalgia/ME sufferer) whose bank savings are under a capped amount.
The Alliance has launched a social media awareness-raising challenge, in which they’re asking people to post photos of themselves holding up homemade banners urging the government to recognise fibromyalgia and ME sufferers as disabilities, tag at least five people to do likewise, and post information about the conditions with their photos.
“We ask the Maltese Government to help us out, to help us live somewhat of a respectful good life and give us the same equal opportunities that other disabilities have,” they said. “We do not want more; we only want a fighting chance like others get.”