A good gut day

  • Health
  • Sunday, 06 Jun 2010

May 29 marked World Digestive Health Day 2010, and the occasion was commemorated with a host of educational, fun-filled activities.

WORLD Digestive Health Day (WDHD) was initiated by the World Gastroenterology Organisation in 2004 to promote worldwide awareness of digestive health, and is celebrated annually on May 29.

Last year, the Malaysian Society of Gastroenterology and Hepatology (MSGH) successfully inaugurated WDHD in Malaysia with as series of events, including a three-day roadshow. This year, WDHD was celebrated at the IKANO Power Centre, Petaling Jaya, from May 27 to 30. It was officiated by Deputy Minister of Health, Datuk Rosnah Haji Abdul Rashid, on May 29.

MSGH also launched a special publication titled Loving What’s Within in commemoration of WDHD 2010. It was given out to the public for free at the WDHD roadshow.

The main attraction of the event was the “Healthy Digestive Journey” – an educational walk-through structure of the digestive tract, which took the public all the way from through the mouth, stomach, small intestine, and large intestine. This digestive tunnel taught the public a variety of fun facts about the digestive system.

At the end of the journey, a simple Q&A reinforced the public’s learning. The tunnel was a success among families with young children.

Other activities included a group of experts, such as gastroenterologist, nutritionists/dietitians and gastroenterology nurses, giving educational advice on general good digestive health care and healthy eating, conducting BMI and body fat percentage checks, as well as running surveys on common digestive problems and colon cancer awareness.

There will also be a series of roadshows promoting good digestive health throughout the year. The event and all its activities was fully sponsored by the VITAGEN Healthy Tummies Programme (as part of Malaysia Milk Sdn Bhd’s corporate social responsibility initiatives).

Here, we give an excerpt of an interview with Dr Tan Huck Joo, president of the MSGH.

What is the current digestive health situation in Malaysia? What are some of the more common conditions you come across?

From 2006 to 2008, digestive system diseases came in seventh among the principal causes of hospitalisation in Ministry of health (MOH) hospitals. As the principal cause of death, however, digestive system diseases have moved up from the 7th in 2006/07 to 6th in 2008.

Colorectal cancer is currently the commonest cancer among men in Malaysia and ranked number 2 among women.

What does MSGH hope to achieve in celebrating WDHD?

MSGH is a professional body of gastroenterology, established in 1993, to promote the art and science of gastroenterology and hepatology, and to improve the standards of digestive health in the country.

As the professional body of gastroenterology in Malaysia, as well as a member of WGO, it is the responsibility of MSGH to organise activities for the WDHD to highlight the importance of good digestive health. In the long run, MSGH hopes that these efforts will lead to reduced prevalence of digestive diseases in Malaysia.

We believe that WDHD is the best platform for us to increase public awareness about the importance of maintaining digestive health for their well being. This is why we have come together to bring this special day to Malaysia and propel it as an annual opportunity for us to get closer to the people and alert them of digestive diseases.

Over the years, MSGH has been conducting annual live endoscopy workshops and scientific conferences, better known as GUT. A major event this year would be the Asia Pacific Digestive Week in September, where MSGH will be hosting one of the more important gastroenterology meetings in Kuala Lumpur themed “Gastroenterology in Asia-Pacific-Excellence in the New Decade”.

In this event, outstanding endoscopists and world leaders in gastroenterology and hepatology will be invited to share their experience and to showcase the latest technology and skills in endoscopy and gastrointestinal (GI) surgery, and to share the most up-to-date management of GI diseases and results from ground-breaking research.

We also hope that the government (MOH) and other relevant non-governmental organisations, such as the Malaysian Paediatric Association and Nutrition Month Malaysia programme, will continue to work together with MSGH in our efforts to bring down the escalating numbers of digestive diseases in Malaysia by organising public events like WDHD celebrations and other digestive health roadshows. It is hoped that all these efforts will help to educate the public on the importance of maintaining a good digestive health system..

Tell us more about the digestive health guidebook

Loving What’s Within is a 40-page guidebook published in two languages (English and Malay). The book features easy-to-read information about common digestive problems and good digestive health care. All content were contributed by gastroenterologists, nutritionists and paediatricians from MSGH, Nutrition Month Malaysia (NMM) and the Malaysian Paediatric Association’s Positive Parenting Programme respectively.

Members of the public can obtain free copies of the book from the WDHD secretariat at 03-5632 3301.

Despite your busy schedule as a gastroenterologist, you are also the president of MSGH and organiser of WDHD 2010. What motivates you?

As the saying goes, prevention is better than cure. Knowledge about digestive health is important to empower the public to lead a healthy lifestyle, and helps them steer clear of bad habits. It is important for patients to recognise the symptoms of digestive problems as some may be caused by serious underlying disease, and to take action early. If they fail to recognise the symptoms, then a treatable condition may become fatal.

Early detection of most diseases may potentially save lives, and an informed individual would be more likely to seek help. That motivates me to support these public advocacy activities.

In your opinion, what are the most difficult or challenging aspects of your career as a gastroenterologist in Malaysia?

Public misconception about certain digestive diseases is quite a headache. For example, most people would equate passing blood per rectum to piles or haemorrhoids. Obviously, bleeding per rectum has many causes and one of the most important causes is colorectal cancer. It would be a disaster to miss early colon cancer when it is still curable.

Another common misconception is there is no treatment for hepatitis B. This again is not true as there is now very effective treatment available for those who require treatment. It is also very important for patients with hepatitis B to follow up with their doctors so that early liver cancer can be detected.

Financial constraints of certain drugs/treatment is another bugbear. Certain drugs are too expensive for the public even though they have been shown to be effective, for example, drugs for treating hepatitis B and C. Sometimes our patients have to settle for a less effective drug because of costs.

Another aspect is the implementation of a large scale colorectal cancer screening programme, which has been proven to be effective in preventing colon cancer, but obviously this is a mega project. This is now being practised in many countries but we are not able to practise that yet.

Do you think we will be able to see much improvement in the digestive health status of Malaysians? What about the practice of gastroenterology in Malaysia?

We have seen some improvement already. The public are definitely more aware of digestive diseases. For instance, Helicobacter pylori is a bacteria that is an important cause of peptic ulcer disease and stomach cancer. In the past, most people were not aware of this particular infection.

However, this has changed over the last few years. More people are aware of H. pylori and the importance of this infection. Patients are aware that it can be treated and it needs to be treated. Obviously we need to do more and work harder on educating the public.

We also have in place a gastroenterology training scheme for doctors who complete their Master in Medicine or equivalent. This is a three-year programme where doctors are trained to be a gastroenterologist. We also have a credentialing committee to ensure that the doctor is fully trained.

As far as facilities are concerned, we also have the latest state-of-the-art equipment in this country, comparable to any top centres in the world. Some of our gastroenterologists are also frequent invited speakers to other parts of the world.

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