Ladies and Gentlemen,
1. It is my pleasure to be present with all of you this morning to officiate at the opening of the First ASEAN Congress of Parasitology and Tropical Medicine and the Fortieth Annual Scientific Seminar of the Malaysian Society of Parasitology and Tropical Medicine.
2. The theme for this Congress, “Tropical Diseases and Vectors: Management and Control”, is an appropriate one which is both topical and most relevant.
3. According to the World Health Organisation, tropical diseases are the biggest killers of children and young adults globally. Furthermore, the statistics reveal the following:
(i) There are at least 300 million acute cases of malaria each year, resulting in more than a million deaths. Sadly, around 90 percent of these deaths occur in Africa, mostly in young children.
(ii) The prevalence of dengue has grown dramatically in recent decades. The disease is now endemic in more than 100 countries, with South-east Asia being one of the most seriously affected.
(iii) As for tuberculosis, each year, 1 percent of the global population is infected. Though only 5 to 10 percent of those infected become sick or infectious, each infective person will pass on the disease to another 10 to 15 people every year.
4. Fortunately, in the ASEAN Region, the incidence of tropical diseases has declined over the years due to effective control programmes and inter-governmental cooperation.
5. We in Malaysia are fortunate that diseases such as malaria, dengue and filariasis are all well under control. This is a significant achievement that we are proud of. Of course, this would not have been possible without the dedicated research and control activities carried out by members of your Society, especially in malaria control, where cases have declined tremendously from an average of 50,000 in the nineteen nineties to just over 6,000 last year.
6. The Malaysian Institute for Medical Research has also been instrumental in conducting extensive research on malaria. Its collaboration with the World Health Organisation’s Tropical Diseases Programme has contributed towards the development of the necessary capacity and capability in research and control of tropical diseases with some of our neighbours. In this aspect, one important milestone is the recent collaborative work on malaria and its vectors carried out by the Institute and the Centre for Malaria, Parasitology and Entomology in Laos.
7. However, there is much more to be done on a regional level. We have yet to win the battle in the effective control of infectious diseases, especially vector borne diseases and water borne diseases that are still endemic in some countries. We need to be ever vigilant and continually evaluate and upgrade our control strategies. Our strategies must always stress the importance of monitoring, surveillance and preventive measures. We need also to enlist public support by creating awareness and cooperation in the fight against these diseases.
8. In recent times, we have seen the emergence of new diseases and the re-emergence of old ones – first the Nipah virus, then the SARS and now the avian flu. Basic and applied research is crucial in the continuing fight against such emerging and re-emerging diseases.
9. From published reports, it appears that only a mere 10 percent of health research is devoted to diseases that account for 90 percent of the global disease burden. These are diseases that prevail essentially in the more underdeveloped parts of the world. Among these are parasitic diseases.
10. Sadly, developing treatment for parasitic diseases is generally seen as a unprofitable venture for the multinational pharmaceutical companies. Thus it is difficult to establish partnerships for developmental research into its treatment. As a consequence, this has, resulted in declining investment in such areas of research over the years.
11. However, I am happy to note that there is a new initiative known as the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDI) that will undertake drug development projects for neglected diseases such as malaria. I congratulate the six founding partners – Medecins Sans Frontieres, Indian Council of Medical Research, The Institute Pasture, The Kenya Medical Research Institute, The Oswald Cruz Foundation and the Ministry of Health, Malaysia – for taking this initiative.
12. A coordinated emergency response plan for control of emerging and re-emerging diseases in the region is vital. For an effective response plan, a comprehensive and innovative disease surveillance system needs to be put in place. This requires professional expertise, efficient laboratory support and advanced research capability. This infrastructure will further strengthen the capacity and capability of developing nations, to address the ongoing but often changing threats from emerging and re-emerging infections.
13. We must bear in mind that the results of research are worthless if they are not converted into useful information and channelled to programme managers in a timely manner for effective implementation. I am glad to note that we have in our audience today both the researchers and the potential end users from the ASEAN region, who are the managers of control programmes and policy decision makers. I am confident that your deliberations over the next few days will be both stimulating and rewarding.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
14. I take this opportunity to congratulate the President and her committee for taking this initiative in organizing this important Congress, and in bringing together, such an array of leading researchers and end-users.
15. I extend a warm welcome to all foreign participants to our country. I know that you all have a full schedule in the coming days, but I hope that you will find time to enjoy parts of this beautiful country.
16. It now gives great pleasure to declare open the First ASEAN Congress of Parasitology and Tropical Medicine and the Fortieth Annual Scientific Seminar of the Malaysian Society of Parasitology and Tropical Medicine.