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WOW – Wear Orange Wednesday (WOW) in South Africa

South Africa’s most populous province, KwaZulu Natal, is turning orange for World MS Day 2012 to raise funds awareness of the disease. The initiative is the brainchild of a local lady living with MS, Jackie Hemmings, and is being organised by Peter Watson, a volunteer at MSSA. Peter’s niece also lives with MS, and these factors, together with the knowledge of how hard basic survival is for many South Africans with MS, gave them the idea to do something big for this year’s World MS Day  .
Wear Orange Wednesday (WOW) is where staff from the province’s top 300 companies are being asked to wear orange in any form on 30th May and to make a donation.  From lipstick or socks to a full orange suit, it is hoped that the companies taking part will match each donation made . For staff who are feeling a little less orange, orange ribbons will be available to show their support.
In a country where many have to live on just a few dollars a day, and it is estimated that there are around 5,000 people living with MS, the cost of MS medication in South Africa is around USD $1,700 – out of reach for the vast majority, though the state does give limited support in the form of social grants.
“We hope to raise as much money as possible for MSSA as we are a very cash-strapped organisation and currently we have to dip into our small capital reserve to keep us going,” Peter says. “We are looking to acquire a piece of land and our aim is to build a Haven for people with MS who are on their own and don’t have carers  as well as providing temporary accommodation to give carers a break .”  Peter also hopes that the event will raise enough money to enable them to convert a mini-bus for wheel chair users, so local people with MS can be taken shopping and on trips.
It is hoped that around 10,000 people will participate in Wear Orange Wednesday.  Despite it being hard for the  MSSA to spread the word in KwaZulu Natal, they have secured newspaper coverage, radio interviews and some participation from schools and local hospitals. Orange ribbons are also being sold in local shopping centres, where the initiative is having some success, though Peter admits fundraising for MS and its diagnosis is hard in a country where HIV prevalence is so widespread amongst the general population.
“I’d say that MS is under-reported in KwaZulu Natal but this is understandable given the number of larger organisations dealing with HIV-AIDS,” he says. “We hope that, with the limited information that was contained in our publicity material for WOW, possible non-diagnosed sufferers of MS may have been given a clue as to their condition.  We also put out a census in the Kwazulu Natal newspapers and on-line media, asking people to notify us if they have been diagnosed to get a better understanding of the MS community in South Africa.”
Besides WOW, MSSA in KwaZulu Natal has also held a sponsored walk, which saw Peter’s niece with MS complete 20km, alongside others walking 10km or less. The organisation hopes to hold a similar event next year on a far bigger scale Hundreds of kilometres away, on the other side of South Africa in Western Cape, MSSA has already held an event in aid of World MS Day. The event in the town of Hermanus, Cape Overburg, was attended by over 80 people.  .

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