Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Six health institutes to come under one roof

Star: KUCHING: Six research institutes under the Health Ministry will be brought together under one roof to better serve the people.
The institutes for Medical Research, and of Public Health, Health Management, Health System Management, Health Behaviour Research and Clinical Research Centre will be housed in the proposed 1National Institutes of Health (1NIH) integrated complex in Setia Alam, Shah Alam. They are currently spread all over town.
Health Deputy Director-General Datuk Dr Maimunah Abdul Hamid disclosed that the Cabinet had approved the project which would be developed in a few years. The building cost has not yet been ascertained.
“We want all the six research institutes under the ministry under one roof,” she told reporters after opening the state Health Research Day in conjunction with Sarawak General Hospital’s 100th anniversary yesterday. “They were spread out because they were created one after the other.”
She said it was important for these centres to come together since health issues were interconnected.
“A lot of problems are not answered by one research question.
“Take dengue, for example. It involves research on the virus itself, people’s behaviour and how to deal with it.
“It’s all integrated,” she said.
Dr Maimunah also said the ministry would work with the tourism sector to promote healthcare to foreigners, especially those in the region and the Middle East.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Johns Hopkins University to set up medical school and hospital in Malaysia

Star: NEW YORK: The world-renowned teaching and research medical institution Johns Hopkins University will be setting up a medical school and hospital in Malaysia.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said a site at Serdang in Selangor had been picked to set up the facilities, which would become a medical research hub for the region.
The medical school, he said, would offer a four-year programme, adding that it would be a private initiative between Malaysian and American investors.
It will be Malaysia’s first private teaching hospital with research facilities.
Speaking to Malaysian newsmen here on Friday evening, he said an agreement would be signed early next month.
The Prime Minister did not give details of the project but it is understood that a Malaysian public listed company would be involved in the medical city plan, estimated to cost RM1.8bil.
There are Johns Hopkins University campuses in China, Singapore, Italy and the United States. The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, is a private, non-profit institution.
Earlier, Najib met Dr Mohan Chellappa, the president of Global Ventures, Johns Hopkins Medicine International, where the Prime Minister was believed to be given an update on the 600-bed private hospital.
The prime minister said Johns Hopkins Medical International was a world-renowned medical school and had adopted a different curriculum compared to other schools.
“They are using the ‘Genes to Society’ curriculum, which is a more personalised medical approach,” he said, adding that the school provided a four-year programme and planned to take 100 students each year.
“Johns Hopkins has got a very good name. The idea is to create Malaysia as a hub,” he added.
Health Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai in welcoming the move said the presence of such a prestigious research facility in the country would boost Malaysia’s health tourism industry.
This, he said, was another feather in the cap for the country’s healthcare industry and would also prompt more Malaysian-born specialists and other health care professionals to come back and serve in the country.
Liow is currently in London in an effort to persuade Malaysian professionals involved in healthcare to return home and serve the country.
“I am here to convince them to return home and serve. I believe many will find it more gratifying to work in Malaysia now,” he said when contacted.
He is also speaking to Malaysian medical students and fresh graduates to convince them to return home once they complete their studies.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Firm working on vaccine to treat HFMD

Star: GEORGE TOWN: A Malaysia-based biotech company is set to develop a vaccine in eight years for the EV71 virus, which causes the infectious and potentially fatal hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD).
The company embarking on this ambitious task is Sentinext Therapeutics Sdn Bhd with its laboratory in Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), Penang.
Its chief scientific officer Prof Dr Jane Cardosa said there was currently no vaccine or anti-viral agent to prevent or treat EV71 infection.
She added that the lab had found a vaccine candidate and was going through pre-clinical tests.
“Hopefully after 18 months, we can move to Phase 1 where we will test its safety on humans followed by efficacy trials (Phase 2). If the vaccine is taken up when it is (fully) developed, children can be protected from EV71, HFMD and some other diseases,” she said at a media briefing in USM yesterday.
“However, we won’t see the end of HFMD as it can still be caused by other viruses.”
The 59-year-old professor retired as Universiti Sarawak Malaysia Institute of Health and Community Medicine director in late August and is now a visiting professor at USM.
The vaccine being developed by Sentinext Therapeutics is a significant breakthrough because the EV71 virus has been consistently causing outbreaks of HFMD in many countries in the Asia-Pacific region.
Prof Cardosa said the Singapore government had funded a company to research and develop a vaccine for the virus but it ceased operations after running out of funds.
The China government has also invested in a similar project but has a different approach from what Prof Cardosa’s lab is doing.
“Our vaccine is formulated from empty capsids to mimic the virus particle but there is no genome. So, it is not infectious,” she said.
Sentinext Therapeutics received a RM40mil fund from the Malaysian Life Sciences Capital Fund and Malaysian Technology Development Corp.
Besides developing and researching a vaccine for EV71, the company is also looking at vaccines for other tropical infectious diseases like malaria and dengue.

Rules on healthcare ads relaxed, says Liow

Star: PUTRAJAYA: Private healthcare providers will now be able to advertise their services in all mediums following the government’s decision to liberalise provisions under the Medicines (Advertisement and Sales) Act 1965, said Health Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai.
Liow said this would allow private healthcare providers to make their services available to both locals and foreigners.
He said the move was in line with the Government’s decision to promote health tourism in Malaysia and raise the number of foreigners coming here by 20% annually from 336,000 visitors last year.
The liberalisation would also ensure that Malaysia maintained its competitiveness in attracting health tourists.
“The liberalisation of the provisions, which comes into effect immediately, will allow private hospitals, clinics and even dental clinics to advertise their facilities and services in newspapers, the electronic media and on the Internet as well as put up banners to announce new facilities.
“They can also advertise abroad but they will have to abide by the laws in those countries as well as the laws here.
“They can mention the latest equipment or treatment they have but they are not to use superlatives like ‘best’ or make comparisons,” he told a press conference after attending his ministry’s Hari Raya celebration.
Before this, private healthcare providers were only allowed to advertise through healthcare magazines and related publications and were not allowed to place advertisements outside Malaysia.
Liow said to further help the industry’s growth, the ministry’s Medicines Advertising Board had also shortened the time to approve applications for advertisements from six weeks to between three and five days now.
He however warned that the ministry would keep close tabs on advertisements related to the industry and those flouting the law would face a fine of up to RM3,000 and a year’s jail or both for the first offence and up to RM5,000 fine or two years’ jail or both for subsequent offences.
He said healthcare providers could go to, or contact the ministry’s secretariat on medical advertisements at 03-7841 3200.
He said the ministry would also launch a large-scale campaign against dengue in Kelantan after the number of cases in the state rose by 160%

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Malaysia's dengue death rate spirals 53 percent this year

AFP: KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia said Monday its dengue fever death rate spiralled 53 percent this year, but backed away from a controversial trial of releasing genetically modified mosquitoes to wipe out the disease.
"There was a major rise in deaths due to dengue fever, with 107 deaths so far this year compared to 70 deaths for the same period last year," said deputy premier Muhyiddin Yassin.
Muhyiddin said the majority of the deaths could have been avoided, and urged the public to take action to eradicate the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes -- which spread dengue -- from their homes and workplaces.
"We have identified 19 hotspots throughout the country where the disease is prevalent, and action is being taken to tackle the situation in these areas," he said.
However, Muhyiddin was cool on a plan to release genetically modified mosquitoes designed to combat dengue fever, in a proposed landmark field trial that has come in for criticism from environmentalists.
In the first experiment of its kind in Asia, 2,000-3,000 male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes were to be released in two Malaysian states in October or November if the plan had won government support.
The insects in the study have been engineered so that their offspring quickly die, curbing the growth of the population in a technique researchers hope could eventually eradicate the dengue mosquito altogether.
Females of the Aedes species are responsible for spreading dengue fever.
Muhyiddin said the project would not be implemented "at the moment".
"Seemingly it is quite an interesting (solution) to deal with such a problem but I think... not until and unless every aspect of research being carried out is clinically tested and... environmental issues have been addressed," he said.
"And of course most importantly at the end of the day, it is endorsed by international organisations -- that it is something we can apply for the purposes of dealing with the epidemic."
The development is a boon for environmentalists who were were concerned the GM mosquito could fail to prevent dengue and could also have unintended consequences.
Critics have said the larvae will only die if their environment is free of tetracycline, an antibiotic commonly used for medical and veterinary purposes.
The field trial for the GM anti-dengue mosquitoes was developed by a British-based insect bio-tech company, Oxitec, and was to be undertaken by the Malaysia's Institute for Medical Research, an agency under the health ministry.
Dengue infection leads to a sudden onset of fever with severe headaches, muscle and joint pains, and rashes.
The virus has historically been found in tropical regions, particularly in urban and semi-urban areas, but has spread in recent years to colder and higher places and is now endemic in more than 100 countries.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Liow: Lack of child nutrition a concern

Star: BENTONG: New mothers should breastfeed their babies for at least six months.
Health Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai said there was a drop in the number of mothers who continuously breastfed their babies for at least four months, from 29% to 19% between 1996 and 2006.
“This shows we need to raise awareness to encourage more mothers to breastfeed.
“The first six months are crucial for the child’s growth, so good nutrition, especially mother’s milk is crucial before introducing the child to semi-solids or solids,” he told reporters yesterday after handing out food hampers to 52 malnourished children in Bentong Hospital.
On the large number of malnourished children up to six years old in the country, Liow urged local and district health authorities to strengthen monitoring and raising awareness among parents, especially in rural areas, to provide adequate nutrition for their children.
“In Malaysia, the practice of ensuring proper nutrition for infants is less than satisfactory,” he said.
Liow added there were 11,796 undernourished children nationwide, half of whom were in the rural areas.
He said undernourished children were usually from poverty-stricken families or those whose diets were not nutritionally balanced.
He said the National Health and Morbidity Survey in 2006 also showed that only 41.4% of Malaysian infants were given proper nutrition.
“The time from birth to two years old is the most critical. If a child is malnourished at this stage and suffers stunted growth, it will not be easy to remedy when the child grows older,” he cautioned.
On another matter, Liow said the Cabinet had given the go-ahead for a national council for local government aimed at stopping the spread of dengue. It would be chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.
The first inter-agency coordination meeting led by the Housing and Local Government and Health Ministries would be held after Hari Raya, he said.
“This meeting will include executive councillors from all states. We need to find ways and means to fight dengue in a more concerted effort,” he said.