The 8th National Public Health Conference 2016, 2-4 August 2016 with the theme “Managing Society in Combating Public Health Challenges” was held at Malacca. It was well attended by Public health physicians, paramedics working in health sectors, dieticians, nutritionist, health educators and NGOs such as PPPKAM. It was officiated by YAB Datuk Seri Ir Hj Idris Hj Haron, Chief Minister of Malacca.
Professors and fellow delegates of the 8th National Public Health Conference 2016.
- It is a great honor to be here at this conference to deliver the keynote address on the topic of ‘Managing Society in Combating Public Health Challenges’. I would like to thank the organising committee for this opportunity and for choosing the theme, which is apt and relevant with current public health climate both locally and globally.
- Throughout time, diseases and health issues changes. Globally, the World Health Organisation (WHO) had identified a number of public health challenges that need to be addressed in this era. The unfinished agenda of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that ends in 2015 and the public health issues of acute epidemic diseases, escalating epidemic of non-communicable diseases, mental health disorders, conflicts and inequalities in all parts of the world are among of the notable important issues that need to be strategically addressed. The new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which came into effect on 1st January 2016 has broader and more ambitious goals. The new agenda integrate all 3 dimensions of sustainable development – economic, social and environmental; and relevant to all people in all countries. One of the 17 goals in the SDGs has been specifically devoted to health that is the 3rd The goal is to “Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages”. The health goal itself is associated with 13 targets, including four means of implementation targets. I urge everyone here to have some knowledge about SDG and internalized the goals in our day-to-day work.
- In Malaysia, although we can take pride of our accomplishments in improving health status, we certainly cannot be complacent. We are experiencing the double burden of diseases where both the non communicable diseases and communicable diseases are on the rise. Almost half (47.7%) of Malaysian adults (above 18 years old) are either overweight or obese which makes us the fattest country in Asia. This is a worrying health problem because obesity is a risk factor for many diseases such as diabetes, heart diseases and some cancers. Another worrying concern is tobacco smoking. We have an estimation of 4.7 million adult smokers and most of them start before the age of 18. More than 40% of Malaysian men smoke. Four out of 10 adults were found to be exposed to second-hand smoke at home (7.6 million adults). Our fight against tobacco is now challenged with the new and classy method of vaping or e-cigarette, which is appealing to the youth and younger generation. Addiction and social ills happen when the opportunities to get involved in the menace are easily accessible and available. Truly frightening, these colors will paint an ugly picture of our nation’s health if not handled strategically.
- Unfortunately, we are repeatedly being challenged with the epidemics of communicable diseases such as dengue and tuberculosis. In 2015, we had the highest number of dengue fever cases ever reported i.e. 120,836 cases with 336 death. Diseases such as Zika infection and Ebola are knocking on our door and becoming threats to our population with the ease of air travel and globalisation. Recently, the notorious vaccine preventable diseases such as diphtheria and measles are being reported and even led to death among our children. As of 27th July 2016, there were 25 confirmed cases of diphtheria with 5 deaths. Sadly these avoidable diseases happened because a small part of our society is misguided and misinformed.
- With the advancement of information technology and social media, activist or groups with deviant health belief are increasing in number and influence. The so-called naturalistic or conservatives and religious groups are using social media to spread their misconceptions and misguided information or belief to the wider community about natural defense or foods advocated by religious belief. The worst part being that these traditional or natural foods and drinks such as alkaline water claim to be a cure for chronic diseases and conditions. To make the matters worst, some public figures and persons well respected by the community including celebrities, religious figures, social media advocates and community leaders produce testimonials in support of such products or practices.
- As you may have noticed by now, many of the challenges are related to human behavior, beliefs and attitude towards health. The question before us, though, as professional healthcare community, is how do we handle those challenges, how do we manage these individuals that constitute of family and society to choose and live a healthier life and to protect health? How do we ensure a healthy environment and how do we safeguard our society from deadly, mutated and antimicrobial-resistance infectious agents? There will always be challenges. That’s what makes life interesting. Overcoming the challenges is what makes life meaningful. Within challenges, therein lies the opportunity. Do not bow to these challenges, for they will become obstacles; instead look for a way not for a way out. Conferences like this is one of the ways for healthcare professionals to be updated and to have scientific based discussion on the matters at hand. The Malaysian Association for Public Health Physician (PPPKAM) and Melaka State Health Department are doing their part in tackling the issues on how to manage our society in ensuring healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages as in the Sustainable Development Goals.
- The global agenda as in SDGs will work if it is given the local context. Our government and Ministry of Health in particular is working in tandem with other ministries and our stakeholders to achieve these SDG targets. We are using all the strategic tools of educating, marketing and policies or laws to ensure healthy lives and promote well being in Malaysia. Investing in public health will and does work. Although there will always be skepticism and criticism but I believe through partnership and collective actions within us, we will be able to combat public health issues.
- Our government has given its commitment in addressing health in SDG and Paragraph 26 of the 2030 agenda states:
To promote physical and mental health and wellbeing, and to extend life expectancy for all, we must achieve universal health coverage and access to quality health care. No one must be left behind.
We commit to accelerating the progress made to date in reducing newborn, child and maternal mortality by ending all such preventable deaths before 2030.
We are committed to ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services, including for family planning, information and education.
We will equally accelerate the pace of progress made in fighting malaria, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, hepatitis, Ebola and other communicable diseases and epidemics, including by addressing growing antimicrobial resistance and the problem of unattended diseases affecting developing countries.
We are committed to the prevention and treatment of non-communicable diseases, including behavioral, developmental and neurological disorders, which constitute a major challenge for sustainable development
- I believe each and every one of us here are passionate in safeguarding the health of our nation. Public health physicians, paramedics working in health sectors, dieticians, nutritionist, health educators and NGOs such as PPPKAM play crucial roles as they are very close to the community. Most of you are the front liners in the community in helping them to achieve better health. Health professionals should understand the lay of the problem or conflicts and work within each other and with other groups that have the same and aligned interest. Be more responsive and spend more time to plan and deal constructively with change. Make appropriate changes in collaboration with the community or groups. Make changes in more cooperative and constructive manner. Healthcare professionals could no longer continue to be indifferent to the interest and preferences of the society.
- Society themselves should view health as an asset just like monetary entity. Every transaction or exchange in which each individual gives and receives should be viewed as something of value.
- Empowering the community to be active participants in maintaining their health, enabling them to rely less on public services, and empowering them to make better lifestyle and health related decisions is quite a challenge to the professional healthcare community. New and innovative community-based programs or technology are needed and should be welcome.
- Information technology and social media should be used to our advantage in promoting health and clarify the misinformation or misconceptions arising from the public. Healthcare providers should use technology and social media to provide true and scientific based information. Fight back the myths and never give up in educating our society. Provide information that is just, easy to digest, interesting and attractive. Be technology savvy and social media-friendly in handling communication conflicts or health issues.
- The bigger the challenges the bigger the opportunity. Today’s challenges call for very bold approaches and the inclusion of universal health coverage (UHC) in the Sustainable Development Goals is an encouraging. Let’s change our challenges into opportunities so that the health and well-being of every niche and corners of our society is well taken care. Working in togetherness and mutual understanding in ensuring healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.