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Efforts to promote health face serious challenges from ‘big businesses”, says UN official

KUALA LUMPUR June 11: Global efforts to promote health face serious challenges, including from ‘big businesses’, according to the World Health Organisation WHO director general Dr Margaret Chan.

In a statement on the United Nations’ UN website on June 10, Chan was quoted as saying efforts to promote good health were more vital than ever given that non-communicable diseases have overtaken infectious diseases as the leading cause of death, in her address to the 8th Global Conference on Health Promotion held in Helsinki, Finland.

“Economic growth, modernization, and urbanization have opened wide the entry point for the spread of unhealthy lifestyles,” she was quoted as saying.

She said that getting people to lead healthy lifestyles and adopt healthy behaviours faced opposition from forces that were “not so friendly.”

“Efforts to prevent non-communicable diseases go against the business interests of powerful economic operators. In my view, this is one of the biggest challenges facing health promotion,” she said.

“It is not just Big Tobacco anymore. Public health must also contend with Big Food, Big Soda, and Big Alcohol. All of these industries fear regulation, and protect themselves by using the same tactics,” said Chan.

Chan said these tactics included front groups, lobbies, promises of self-regulation, lawsuits, and industry-funded research that “confuses the evidence and keeps the public in doubt.”

They also include gifts, grants, and contributions to worthy causes that cast these industries as respectable corporate citizens in the eyes of politicians and the public, she added.They include arguments that place the responsibility for harm to health on individuals, and portray Government actions as interference in personal liberties and free choice.

“This is formidable opposition. Market power readily translates into political power. Few Governments prioritize health over big business. As we learned from experience with the tobacco industry, a powerful corporation can sell the public just about anything,” said Chan.

Chan also voiced concern about two recent and related trends.

“The first relates to trade agreements. Governments introducing measures to protect the health of their citizens are being taken to court, and challenged in litigation. This is dangerous,” she stated.

“The second is efforts by industry to shape the public health policies and strategies that affect their products. When industry is involved in policy-making, rest assured that the most effective control measures will be downplayed or left out entirely. This, too, is well documented, and dangerous.

“In the view of WHO, the formulation of health policies must be protected from distortion by commercial or vested interests,” said Chan.

via Efforts to promote health face serious challenges from ‘big businesses”, says UN official.

Activists fault WHO report on Fukushima radiation

Activists fault WHO report on Fukushima radiation


Activist physicians on Monday accused the World Health Organization of downplaying the health impact of nuclear fallout from the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

In a New York symposium marking the two-year anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear plant meltdown in Japan, the physicians took issue with WHO’s conclusion in a recent report that it did not expect a significant surge in cancer in Japan or elsewhere due to radiation leaks.

“It’s a report that was meant to reassure people who, almost certainly, many will develop leukemia and cancer,” said Helen Caldicott, a prominent anti-nuclear activist whose foundation, the Helen Caldicott Foundation, co-sponsored the symposium, along with Physicians for Social Responsibility.

“What is going to happen is there will be a high incidence of cancer and leukemia and genetic disease,” due to the leaks, she said.

The WHO report drew criticism from Japanese government officials because it projected an increase in some cancers among those living near the plant.

Japanese officials said the report was based on faulty assumptions and would unnecessarily upset residents.

But Caldicott said the report, released Feb 28, understated the problem because of key issues it either “ignored” or “glossed over.”

For one, she said, WHO did not take actual radioactive emissions into account, relying on estimates.

The UN health body also did not examine the effects on children comprehensively, including what the impact would be of eating radiation-contaminated food over a lifetime.

The agency also did not closely examine the impact on workers at the Fukushima plant or on people from the area who evacuated through the plume of radiation that came from the plant, she said.

“As a physician, I abhor what they’ve done,” Caldicott said.

The two-day conference at the New York Academy of Medicine marked the anniversary of the 9.0-magnitude subsea earthquake and tsunami which rocked Japan on March 11, 2011, leaving nearly 15,881 people dead and 2,668 others still unaccounted for.

The quake and tsunami deeply damaged the cooling systems of the Fukushima nuclear plant, causing partial meltdowns in several units and spilling radioctive particles into the air and sea nearby.

Monday’s symposium featured presentations from biologists, epidemiologists and other scientists on the health effects of nuclear accidents.

Caldicott cited one survey done by a Fukushima medical organization that showed 42% of 100,000 children sustained thyroid abnormalities, such as a cyst or a nodule. The survey showed three children with thyroid cancer and seven additional cases of suspected cancer.

She said data showed that three times as much radioactive xenon, and possibly three times as much cesium, escaped at Fukushima as at Chernobyl, the nuclear plant in the Ukraine that released huge amounts of radioactive particles into the atmosphere after an explosion and fire in 1986.

The WHO report did conclude that the cancer risk was higher for certain groups of local people in Fukushima.

That includes a projected 7% increase in leukemia among males exposed as infants, over what would have normally been, and a 6% higher occurrence of breast cancer among women exposed as infants.

The occurrence of thyroid cancer in females over a lifetime could rise by as much as 70% over the normal rate.

But for the general population inside and outside of Japan, the WHO said, “the predicted risks are low and no observable increases in cancer rates above baseline rates are anticipated.”

Steven Starr, a program director at the University of Missouri, presented data from Chernobyl that showed, 14 years later, that 40 percent of high school graduates suffered chronic blood disorders and malfunctioning thyroids.

Starr predicted similar problems in Fukushima.

Maurice Enis and Jaime Plym, two U.S. Navy quartermasters, told the symposium that they experienced the effects of radiation poisoning after servingon a search and rescue mission near Fukushima after the disaster.

Enis complained of loss of energy, hair loss and the appearance of some lumps on his body.

Plym said her menstrual cycle has been thrown off due to exposure to radioactive materials. They said troops were kept in the dark about the severity of the nuclear incident at Fukushima.

The two have joined a lawsuit with 115 current and former U.S. military personnel against the nuclear plant’s owner, Tokyo Electric Power Company, that alleges TEPCO misrepresented the depth of problems at the plant.





根據刊載在2月19日內科醫學誌(Annals of Internal Medicine)的研究結果顯示,接受針灸治療的患者症狀改善程度超過對照組。Nelson博士表示,有針灸的人在8週後症狀改善較多,且使用更少抗組織胺藥物治療,他們的生活品質平均進步了0.5到0.7個百分點,這在現實生活中應該轉換成花粉症症狀有明顯差異。

三組針灸的參與者在16週時花粉症的症狀好多了,可能是因為已經過了花粉季節。然而,再8個星期後優點消失。不過,柏林Charite大學醫學中心的Benno Brinkhaus博士表示,這不一定代表針灸沒有好處,他建議對抗過敏藥物沒效或是有副作用而不滿意的患者,可以考慮針灸。

丹佛醫院的過敏症專家HarOLd Nelson博士認為,這篇研究做得很好,而且是正面的,針灸似乎有幫助。但Nelson博士懷疑針灸的時間、不方便、以及費用,特別是有鼻噴劑等更簡單的方法來處理這些症狀,是否還需要去針灸診所坐著插16根針灸20分鐘,而且一個療程要做12次。



杜克大學醫學院的Rem Coeytaux表示,當然,如果有興趣不妨一試。這篇研究的優點是將針灸與抗組織胺藥物和假針灸進行比較,假針灸是為了讓患者有「安慰劑效應」,感覺自己有被治療而感覺好多了,但可能真的具有生理效應,使得假治療成為不良的安慰劑。




詳全文 針灸有助於緩解花粉熱-生活新聞-新浪新聞中心

WHO approved Vaccine Manufacturing Practices adopted by Indian Pharmaceutical Companies

World Health Organisation

The World Health Organisation (WHO) in the third week of December 2012 approved the manufacturing practices being adopted by the private vaccine manufacturing pharmaceutical companies of India. This approval was given to Indian Pharmaceutical companies after an intensive four days audit of the vaccine manufacturing facilities across the country was concluded by a 16-member multi-nation team that was headed by WHO officials. The team comprised officials from China, EU, the US FDA, Thailand, Sweden and France.

WHO gave its clearance to the procedures adopted by the Indian National Regulatory Authority (NRA) or the Drug Controller General’s Office (DCGO). The audit team also cleared that the procedures adopted by the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) and institutions affiliated to it meet the prescribed international standards and the procedures inculcated in production were stringent enough to ensure that the vaccines produced by Indian companies were safe, high in quality and efficacious.

With this approval India became the first country in 2012 to pass the stringent levels of seven indicators that is put forward by the WHO that is made much more stringent every time conducted by a team of 12 international experts headed by a member of WHO.

India at present is a major vaccine producing country with 12 major vaccine manufacturing facilities and the vaccines formulated and manufactured in India are used in national and international markets of nearly 150 countries of the world. In case of measles every second child of the world is vaccinated using the vaccine produced in India. At present India manufactures 30 different types of vaccines that include Hepatitis, measles and polio. This approval from WHO had made the 12 manufacturing units of India eligible for supplying the vaccines to international bodies like UNICEF, WHO, World Bank, Gates Foundation, Clinton Foundation, and GAVI.


Most women exposed to second-hand tobacco smoke in China

HONG KONG – Nearly two-thirds of women of reproductive age in China are exposed to second-hand tobacco smoke at home and over half are exposed in the workplace, which raises the risk of complications in pregnancy, including stillbirths and infant death.

The findings, released by the World Health Organisation on Tuesday, are from a tobacco survey conducted in China in 2010 by the centres for disease control and prevention in China, the United States and the WHO.

Around 100,000 people die from exposure to second-hand smoke in China each year, in addition to an estimated 1 million people who die from direct tobacco consumption.

Women in rural areas of China were more affected, with almost 3 in every 4 exposed to second-hand smoke at home, compared to just over half in urban areas.

“There is no safe level of exposure to tobacco smoke. Creating 100 per cent smoke-free environments is the only way to protect people from the harmful effects of second-hand tobacco smoke,” said Michael O’Leary, WHO representative in China.

“Tobacco use and second-hand smoke exposure in reproductive-aged women can cause adverse reproductive health outcomes, such as pregnancy complications, fetal growth restriction, preterm delivery, stillbirths, and infant death.”

About a quarter of China’s 1.3 billion people are smokers, or about as many people as there are in the United States. But the country is gradually becoming more aware of this public health problem.

The Ministry of Health warned in May that more than 3 million Chinese would die of smoking-related illnesses annually by 2050 if nothing is done to curb this harbit.


Third of malaria drugs ‘are fake’

Some species in Thailand and Vietnam spread a drug-resistant malaria strain

A third of malaria drugs used around the world to stem the spread of the disease are counterfeit, data suggests.

Researchers who looked at 1,500 samples of seven malaria drugs from seven countries in South East Asia say poor-quality and fake tablets are causing drug resistance and treatment failure.

Data from 21 countries in sub-Saharan Africa including over 2,500 drug samples showed similar results.

Experts say The Lancet Infectious Diseases research is a “wake-up call”.

The US researchers from the Fogarty International Center at the National Institutes of Health who carried out the work believe the problem may even be much greater than data suggests.

“Most cases are probably unreported, reported to the wrong agencies, or kept confidential by pharmaceutical companies,” say the researchers.

No large studies of drug quality have been carried out in China or India – countries that house a third of the world’s population and are a “probable” source of many counterfeit drugs as well as genuine antimalarial medicines, they say.

Lead researcher Gaurvika Nayyar stressed that 3.3 billion people were at risk of malaria, which is classified as endemic in 106 countries.

“Between 655,000 and 1.2 million people die every year from Plasmodium falciparum infection,” he said.

“Much of this morbidity and mortality could be avoided if drugs available to patients were efficacious, high quality, and used correctly.”

In parts of the world where malaria is prevalent, antimalarial drugs are widely distributed and self-prescribed, both correctly and incorrectly, say the researchers.

The study found there are insufficient facilities to monitor the quality of antimalarial drugs and poor consumer and health-worker knowledge about the therapies.

And there is a lack of regulatory oversight of manufacturing and little punitive action for counterfeiters.

Despite this, malaria mortality rates have fallen by more than 25% globally since 2000, and by 33% in the WHO African Region.

But the World Health Organization says maintaining current rates of progress will not be enough to meet global targets for malaria control.

It is calling for renewed investment in diagnostic testing, treatment, and surveillance for malaria.


Holistic ageing

Old will be gold if we live our lives in a way that encourages mobility and independence when we age.

THE four-day 1st World Congress on Healthy Ageing was held in Kuala Lumpur from March 19-22. It was organised by the Malaysian Healthy Ageing Society and co-sponsored by the World Health Organization.

Almost 1,000 participants from all over the world attended, and our own Health Ministry was also one of the main supporters, and had sent several hundred of its staff to attend to learn from world experts.

The four days were packed with interesting and informative plenary sessions, forums, symposiums, workshops and short oral presentations. The topics covered encompassed the whole spectrum of issues affecting ageing, the aged, and the ageing population – spiritual, mental, emotional, physical, socio-economic, legal, environmental, medical, and complementary therapies.

The World Congress on Healthy Ageing held in Kuala Lumpur saw almost a thousand participants from all four corners of the world.

Like all the other participants, I spent the four days criss-crossing from one lecture hall to another trying to learn as much as possible from the hundreds of topics on the programme.

Often, I was faced with a dilemma when there were two or more interesting concurrent sessions that I wanted to attend. I was also invited to conduct a qigong workshop, to introduce qigong as a simple and effective exercise to help maintain health while we age, and to prevent, and even, reverse certain diseases.

I hope to share some of the lessons I learned from this very successful inaugural world congress. But first, I would like to congratulate the organisers for making Malaysia a proud host, setting a benchmark for future world congresses to follow. The next one will be in South Africa in 2015.

The ageing world

Many countries are already facing the problem of ageing populations due to the combination of progressively lower birth rates and higher life expectancies.

Japan is at the top of the list. Coupled with a shrinking young population (0-15 years), the demographic charts of many countries are slowly changing from the traditional pyramid shaped (with the young at the base) to become more expanded at the middle and top, and shrinking at the base.

Japan and several other countries already have a ballooned middle portion (15-65 years), and in future, will have a top-heavy chart (more middle-aged and older people than the younger groups). Only the poorer countries maintain the traditional population distribution according to age.

The definition of old age varies. The more advanced countries use 65+ years, while the poor and developing countries (including Malaysia, Thailand and other countries in the region) use 60+ years as the criteria.

In the past, when life expectancy was not high, 50+ was considered old. Then, as we progressed and achieved longer life spans, the definition of old age also progressively changed. Even the age of pension for government servants has increased from 55, to 56, to 58, and finally to 60 years (beginning this year). In rich and advanced countries, it is generally at 65-67 years.

The shifting demographics pose special challenges to society, and on the authorities and governments managing the ageing population. The burden will be felt in all spheres of life, particularly in the health and disease/disability aspects.

Since Malaysia is also not spared from the ageing trend, it is comforting to know that our Health Ministry sent hundreds of its staff to attend, so that we are equipped with the latest information, and participate in valuable discussions in planning our own solutions to the emerging problem.

The ageing individual

While I have attended many anti-ageing conferences that focus more on how to stay young and reverse ageing (at least temporarily), this healthy ageing congress covered a much wider scope, focusing not only on the ageing individual, but also on the ageing society and all the issues that would ensue.

As far as the ageing individual is concerned, the general view for what would entail healthy ageing is that a holistic approach is important. This would include living a spiritual life (even “scientific” or “secular spirituality” for those who are not religious or don’t believe in god – more about this in future articles); adopting a healthy lifestyle, which includes having a nutrient-rich diet and being physically active; being continually engaged in social activities; and having access to adequate health and other necessary facilities.

Prof Suresh Rattan of Denmark, who introduced the concept of secular spirituality, also listed his secrets for a successful healthy ageing and longevity. These are the 7 Spiritual Laws of Health and Longevity: rational optimism (as opposed to blind optimism); adaptability; being socially engaged; having self-love, self-respect and self-acceptance; enjoying guilt-free pleasures; enjoying solitude (when such circumstances arise); and having boundless humour!

He also proposed that healthy ageing means having the ability to conduct daily activities independently, which I agree is a simple, practical definition for healthy ageing in the elderly.

One of the highlights of the congress was the lecture about the secrets of the longevity of the Okinawans, which was presented by Prof Emeritus Makoto Suzuki, who is the leading expert on the Okinawa longevity phenomenon.

The real secret lies in their culture. Their concept of old age is different from ours. They consider themselves young until they are into their 50’s. They look to seniors as “elders”, not as “oldies”. They celebrate life, and longevity is only a natural consequence.

They lead a quality life, and the quantity (enhanced lifespan) comes naturally. Their diet is rich in raw foods, veggies, beans and soya been curds. They are active, and do a lot of physical work as part of their daily routine.

They practise self-reliance, as well as have a strong community support system. Their lifestyle promotes spiritual, mental, emotional and physical health. They don’t worry too much about problems, and they lead highly spiritual lives.

A typical woman would pray daily at the altar, gives a daily report to the divine, and seek divine help and blessings for the day.

Unfortunately, the later generation of Okinawans has become Westernised, and their special place as champions of longevity will soon be lost. The youngest generation has embraced hamburgers and hot-dogs, just like our own children!

In 1985, the life expectancy for Okinawans was 80 years (males 76, females 84). The average for Japan was 78 years (males 75, females 81). Although life expectancy continues to rise, the gap between Okinawans and the other Japanese narrowed down to such an extent that by 2000, the life expectancy for males became the same (77 years), while females only had one year’s advantage (86 vs 85 years), and perhaps even that has been lost by now.

However, from the cultures and practices of the elder generations, we have learned so much that we can emulate, and hopefully, also enjoy the benefits of the long, healthy lives that made them famous.

Longevity, lifespan and healthspan

The United Nations (UN) data for life expectancy (2005-2010) listed Japan as having the highest at 82.6 years (males 79, females 86.1). Malaysia was joint 65th at 74.2 years (males 72, females 76.7), while Singapore was 7th at 81 years (males 79, females 83).

However, the data for 2011 (estimated figures by CIA World Fact Book) listed Monaco as the best at 89.7 years (males 85.8, females 93.7); Japan is down to 5th at 82.3 years (males 79, females 85.7); Singapore remains 7th at 82.1 years (males 79.5, females 85); and Malaysia a lowly 108th at 73.3 years (males 70.6, females 76.2). Although there are some inconsistencies between the two sets of data, the latest UN estimates also showed that Malaysia had dropped to 80th.

So while we can be proud that our life expectancy has improved over the years, we are far behind our neighbours just across the causeway. Worse still, we have not improved in tandem with the others, and have dropped down the list.

The shocking news is that the life expectancy in Swaziland (Africa) is only 31.9 years (males 31.6, females 32.2)!

Since life expectancy is an important indicator of the health of the people, I hope our Health Ministry personnel who attended the congress will put their newly-acquired knowledge to good use and formulate strategies to improve not only our life expectancy, but more importantly, the healthy portion of our lifespan (healthspan vs lifespan).

Indeed, we should be spending more efforts to improve our health, rather than worry about our lifespan, because a longer lifespan should be a natural consequence of a healthy life. It is not the quantity, but the quality that matters.

Read More: The Star

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