Announcement Released Thu-3rd-August-2017 13:07 GMT
Contact: University of Malaya Institution: University of Malaya
Role of health sciences and interdiscipline collaborations - the way forward towards championing a healthy nation

University of Malaya’s researcher, Assoc. Prof. Dr. Loh Siew Yim, presented on the emerging field of cancer survivorship. International health science experts were invited to share their expertise, ideas and initiatives to bring about innovative changes to the field of health sciences in Malaysia and in the Asia-Pacific region.

The i-Sihat 2017 Symposium on 1-2 August 2017 was led by a team of health science leaders from the Faculty of Health Sciences, National University of Malaysia. The 2017 conference is a continuous biennial effort, with the aim to address the mission of the Malaysian Ministry of Health in championing a healthy nation. Health care involves the application of the knowledge acquired through a variety of health science fields, including pharmacy, dentistry and therapy, as it involves more than mere treatment of illness, but also the prevention of it, to maintain the overall mental and physical well-being of patients. As a conference, it was a timely, proactive plan, in providing a platform to the developing health science professions in Malaysia, where its educators, researchers and clinicians collaborate to exchange scientific information and skills.

Themed “Changing Lives: Health Sciences Leading the Way“, the i-Sihat 2017 offered a range of interrelated topics including, health sciences, public health, diagnostic science, and the inclusion of dentistry this year. Professor Dr Poh Bee Koon, the organizing chairperson asserts that, the theme serves to remind that, with a cutting edge research in health sciences, healthcare practitioners are at the forefront in helping out patients and the population to change and improve not just their health, but their quality of life. International health science experts were also invited to share their expertise, breakthrough ideas and initiatives to bring about innovative changes to the field of health sciences in Malaysia and in the Asia-Pacific region, for the advancement of health sciences. The conference was a forum that had brought together researchers, scientists and educators in related health field where they discussed and shared key important issues in public health, with stimulating interdisciplinary interactions.

The keynote address on science, technology and innovation (STI) as enablers for sustainable health on Malaysia’s desirable outcomes by 2050, was by its Emeritus Prof Tan Sri Datuk Dr Salleh Md Yasin. He draws examples from South Korea and Sweden’s approaches for human capitals and R&D outputs. [Now, it seems there was a clear demarcation in human capital for the health profession - especially with occupational therapy profession when Sweden is compared to Malaysia. The World Federation of Occupational therapists in 2015, reported that Sweden with a population of a mere 9,920 million, recorded almost 1000 occupational therapists, and with mostly postgraduate qualifications up to doctorates. In sharp contrast, Malaysia with its 31, 165 million population, only has 1600 occupational therapists and at a lower qualification of diploma and degrees. Indeed this is one area for the Ministry of Health and higher education to start its short and long term planning for human resource need for Malaysia to achieve sustainable health].

The plenary lectures started with the multiple award-winner, Dr Dhesi Baha Raja, the CEO of AIME artificial Intelligence in medical epidemiology at the Ministry of health, who shared exciting work related to dengue monitoring and control in Asia, where weather and geographical variables (such as air flow direction) were incorporated to predict outbreak in dynamic, real time manner. Indeed it was a showcase of interdisciplinary partnership for public health. Another exiting plenary was by the Australian Professor Karin Anstey, who has been researching on the protective factors for dementia, with a distinction made between risk in midlife and risk in elderly. It was enlightening to hear that the answer to her talk entitled- Brain games or fish oils –What’s the evidence factor that reduce risk of dementia? Was that the latter has better evidence than the former? Who would imagine that all the occupational therapy cognitive training games may be lacking in evidence, but more importantly, are any of these human resource intensive therapy, showing any cost effective evidence. Bear in mind that Malaysia only has less than 2000 occupational therapists. This is another example of the country to pave the way for autonomous, interdisciplinary collaborations between the nutritionist and the occupational therapists and other health professionals.

Having a deliberate health-profession focused meeting ensure targeted areas can be highlighted and, that the contributions of health professionals are acknowledged, encouraged and further enabled towards greater, autonomous, cross-cutting contributions in terms of practice or research. Prof Dato Dr Andrew Kiyu‘s presentation was timely, and encouraging. He reinforced the contributions from the often neglected health sciences practitioners and scientists. Indeed there is no denying that the health sciences have contributed enormously to the health and wellbeing of the population, and will continue to do so in the future, taking into consideration the dynamic transitions of demographics, epidemiologic and health domains. In conclusion, public health physicians and health professionals must collaborate interdisciplinary to develop capacities and expertise.

Another invited speaker, Assoc Prof Dr Loh Siew Yim from University of Malaya, gave an interesting presentation on the emerging field of Cancer Survivorship, with an emphasis on interdisciplinary public health approach - one that calls for independent, collaborative work between health-related disciplines. Showcasing leadership, she highlighted the changing survivorship landscape, in terms of concepts, definitions and burdens (in relation to gender, age, sites and time of diagnosis), priority survivorship care areas, and provided several Models of survivorship care with examples of applications - to showcase interdisciplinary partnerships needs in the current context of 'hoping for cure, but focusing on care' of the rising number of survivors. She asserted that the many after-effects from treatment and diagnosis, as well as, the physical-psychosocial-occupational issues affecting survivors' daily living activities, can be cost-effectively managed by optimizing the occupational therapy specialists who are well trained in these areas, and, with leadership in community and health promotion strategies.

Unfortunately, the country‘s low human resource of therapists will not get any better, with its current neglect and lack of educational training program at universities grounds. In addition, the health disciplines are experiencing erosion of its professional autonomy, and have regressed into an outdated re-organization in the medical model system of care. It’s thus imperative for major Universities in Malaysia to step up strategies and to develop capacities and expertise of these relatively low cost, and effective health disciplines now, least we remain forever as a developing country.

Lastly, this year’s i-Sihat showed more progress with its greater collaboration with odontology and dentistry field of expertise. All in all, 'i-Sihat' was a good catalytic academic platform for changing lives, with health sciences leading the way.

Associate Prof. Dr. Loh Siew Yim
Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, Faculty of Medicine,
University of Malaya, 50603 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
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