Assalamualaikum Warahmatullahi Wabarakatuh.
Beta bersyukur ke hadrat ILAHI kerana dengan izin dari Nya juga Beta dapat berangkat ke majlis perasmian Bengkel Antarabangsa Ketujuh anjuran The Confederation of Scientific and Technological Associations in Malaysia (COSTAM) dan The Society for Free Radical Research (SFRR) bertajuk “Chemoprevention and Translational Research”.
- I am delighted to be here this afternoon to officiate at the opening ceremony of the 7th COSTAM/ SFRR International Workshop and to address this distinguished gathering of health experts and researchers from around the world. The theme, “Chemoprevention and Translational Research”, is one that I find most relevant in the light of current global health trends. Despite the fact that communicable diseases, including new ones, continue to threaten every citizen of this interconnected world, their mortality and disease burden remains significantly dwarfed by those caused by non-communicable illnesses.
- At one time while developing countries were suffering from infectious diseases, developed countries were the main victims of non-communicable chronic diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases. Due to the advent of antibiotics, infectious diseases in most developing countries have been significantly reduced. Chronic diseases, on the other hand, have been on the rise. Today, they represent the primary threat to human health and development. Statistics show that chronic diseases are the world’s biggest killers causing an estimated 35 million deaths each year – 60 percent of all deaths globally. 80 percent of these occur in low and middle-income countries, where they are most difficult to tackle, and nearly 50 percent of deaths involve people under 70 years of age. Furthermore, these figures are on an upward trend. If not addressed, the World Health Organisation predicts that mortality due to non-communicable diseases will rise by 17 percent by the year 2018.
- These statistics are alarming and they have long-lasting and wide-ranging implications. The social and economic burden of non-communicable diseases encompass high healthcare costs; lost productivity and employment due to associated death and disability; and the indirect costs attributed to the impact on the lives of patients and their families. The Millennium Development Goals – whilst recognizing health as vital for development – overlook the prevalence of chronic diseases and their contribution to poverty, where they especially affect the most disadvantaged groups, making poverty cyclical.
- The World Bank has, for a long time, worked on quantifying the implications of the tobacco industry on the economy. Due to tobacco smoke’s high content of unstable free radicals and other toxic and carcinogenic chemicals, it is a leading cause of premature morbidity and mortality. An interesting study conducted 15 years ago by Howard Barnum, economist at the World Bank, explored the economic impact of the tobacco trade. His study measured net benefits to consumers and producers versus costs due to premature death, time off sick and medical costs. Barnum’s findings revealed that every 1000 additional tonnes of tobacco traded in the global market results in a net loss of 27.2 million US Dollars.
- Extensive research seems to indicate that chronic illnesses are largely a consequence of lifestyle. This means that their burden is a direct result of human behaviour. Cancer, for example, is said to be highly preventable because one third of all cancers in the western world, and as much as 50 percent in developing countries like India and possibly Malaysia, are caused by tobacco smoking. The remaining cases of cancer are either caused by diet or environmental factors such as pollution. Whether tobacco, diet or environmental factors, they all are connected with each other through their ability to generate pro-oxidants. Pro-oxidants cause inflammation and hence the disease such as cancer. The same lifestyle factors are also responsible for cardiovascular diseases, pulmonary diseases and diabetes. It is no wonder then that chronic diseases are on the rise in developing countries.
- In Malaysia, the forces of urbanization are turning people increasingly towards sedentary lifestyles and towards conveniently-available, unhealthy, processed, high fat foods. The Third National Health and Morbidity Survey conducted in 2006 revealed that the national obesity rate has rapidly increased over the decade, from 4.4% in 1996 to 12.7% in 2002 and to 14.2% in 2006. Despite government efforts to curb smoking, the national prevalence of smokers remained virtually unaffected at 21.5 percent of the population. Among the male population, the smoking rate was at a startling 46.4 percent. In addition, the degradation of air quality and the increase in environmental pollution have all contributed to Malaysians’ increased exposure to free radicals and greater risk of contracting chronic illnesses.
- Hippocrates proclaimed almost 25 centuries ago, “let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”. Today, after billions spent on research, the National Institute of Health in the United States recommends a similar paradigm – that the consumption of fruits and vegetables can help reduce risks of chronic diseases. Today, of course, there is a vast scientific body of knowledge on the nutritional components in food that can counter the harmful effects of free radicals and that deter diseases such as cancer, coronary heart disease, stroke and diabetes. I have been informed that Malaysia’s wonder crop, the oil palm, has been discovered to be a rich source of micronutrients such as vitamin E, carotenoids, phenolic compounds, squalene and coenzyme Q10, which are all powerful antioxidants.
- At the same time, however, numerous other studies conducted worldwide, have found that there is a significant decline in the nutritive content in most foods over the last three decades. This decline is correlated with farming methods, where modern industrial methods consistently show low product nutrition while natural methods, with judicious use of fertilizers and pesticides, show higher nutrition yield. We eat for nourishment, yet food production is measured in terms of weight and not nutrition yield. This anomaly is apparently being thoroughly exploited by food producers where quantity and time to market take precedence over quality. The nutrition ‘dilution effect’ means that we either have to consume more to obtain the required nutrition, to turn to organically-produced food, or to rely on supplements. All of these entail higher costs for the consumer.
- Against this backdrop, it is impossible to overstate the case for intervention. This brings me to the importance of collaborative forums such as this. Your research has the potential to save millions from the pain, suffering and costs associated with chronic illnesses. Too often, people see chronic illnesses as an area beyond resolve because of human beings’ persistence in risky behaviour.
- I am pleased that the theme of this workshop includes ‘translational research’, thus emphasising the need for transforming laboratory findings into real world applications. I am happy to hear of SFRR’s role in publishing new findings in peer-reviewed journals so that there is credible science to support the theory, which can then be disseminated to the mass-media for public consumption. Among the measures that can be taken are:
- firstly, to sufficiently educate and empower the public to take preventive healthcare measures. This means technical jargon, usually reserved for the scientific elite, must be translated into language understandable by the lay person;
- secondly, to advocate for long term preventive care to form an integral part of national healthcare systems, as opposed to expensive, short term acute care, which currently accounts for most healthcare spending;
- and finally, to train and provide technical support to food and pharmaceutical producers so that they can deliver essential nutrition and antioxidants to consumers at the lowest possible cost.
- I congratulate the organizers: the Society for Free Radical Research Asia and Malaysia, the Confederation of Scientific and Technological Associations in Malaysia, The Malaysian Palm Oil Board and University Kebangsaan Malaysia. It is very encouraging to see such collaboration among the global research fraternity on this important issue. Workshops like this are a significant part of the fight against chronic diseases. I wish you fruitful discussions over the coming days and I hope that you enjoy your stay on this beautiful island.
- It is with great pleasure that I declare the 7th COSTAM/ SFRR International Workshop on Chemoprevention and Translational Research officially open.
Wabillahi taufik walhidayah
Wasalamualaikum Warahmatullahi Wabarakatuh.
- World Health Organization, 2008. ↑
- Barnum H. “The economic burden of the global trade in tobacco”, Tobacco Control, 1994, Vol 3, p 358–361 ↑
- Malaysia, The Third National Health and Morbidity Survey, 2006. ↑
- Shrivastava, Arun; “New Legislation: The Control of America’s Farmers and Farm Lands”, Global Research, 15 March 2009, http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=12717 ↑
- Ibid. ↑