Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

Learn from Australia’s mistakes on black market tobacco

Wednesday, October 21st, 2020
The people smuggling tobacco are usually smuggling other things, too. Profits from tobacco smuggling are funding these other activities, particularly drugs and human trafficking.
The people smuggling tobacco are usually smuggling other things, too. Profits from tobacco smuggling are funding these other activities, particularly drugs and human trafficking.

THERE’S renewed interest in black market tobacco in Malaysia, which the New Straits Times has highlighted with its excellent Insights event.

We have similar issues in Australia and the blame can be placed squarely at the feet of the Australian government, which no country should try to emulate in addressing illicit tobacco.

A Malaysian woman was recently sentenced to two years in an Australian jail for orchestrating a sophisticated money-laundering and tobacco smuggling operation on behalf of a large-scale global crime syndicate.

Federal police telephone intercepts overheard her telling one of her underlings that the cigarette imports were “only about the dodging of tax, so Customs should not be interested”.

Most countries impose taxes on tobacco, for which two justifications are offered. One, not heard very often, is that it can raise a lot of revenue. The other, mentioned frequently, is that it discourages smoking. The first is the truth; the second may once have been true in Australia, but it is not now.Rates of smoking are not falling. Australia’s big increases in tobacco excise began in 1992. However, it really took off in 2010 with a 25 per cent increase followed by increases of 12.5 per cent every year from 2013, with the latest in September this year.

Last year, the excise rate was about 270 per cent higher than in 2012. As a consequence, cigarettes in Australia are the most expensive in the world at about A$1.20 per stick (depending on brand) at retail level. Tobacco excise contributes almost A$18 billion a year to government revenue.

With the price of an entire pack costing less than this in some countries, there is an enormous incentive to smuggle tobacco products into Australia. It is said that even if nine out of 10 containers of illicit tobacco products are intercepted, the profits on the 10th are sufficient to cover the losses and reward the smugglers handsomely.

Smokers, a large proportion of whom are on low incomes, have responded appropriately. The annual survey of tobacco consumption undertaken by KPMG found that illicit tobacco increased from 14 per cent of the market in 2018 to more than 20 per cent last year.

A total of 3.1 million kg of tobacco, loose and packaged, were smuggled into the country, avoiding A$3.41 billion in excise. This occurred despite a 46 per cent increase in tobacco seizures by the Australian Border Force.

It seems the Covid-19 pandemic has provided an enormous boon for smugglers and criminal syndicates as law enforcement officials are increasingly focused on patrolling internal or state borders.

To some extent, this is of no great concern to anyone except the federal government. Cheap smokes are no more dangerous than the legal kind and the smugglers are merely evading taxes, not something most of us would seriously criticise.

The problem is, the people smuggling tobacco are usually smuggling other things, too. Profits from tobacco smuggling are funding these other activities, particularly drugs and human trafficking.

The response of Australia’s federal government has been to boost deterrence and interdiction efforts. Penalties have been increased and, in 2018, it established an Illicit Tobacco Taskforce to “proactively detect, disrupt and dismantle serious organised crime syndicates that deal in illicit tobacco”. The result is increased seizures but, as the KPMG survey shows, it is yet to make any difference to the market.

The obvious solution would be to remove the incentive to smuggle tobacco by reducing the excise. Smokers would buy their favourite legal brands if they were cheaper, legitimate tobacco retailers would not be competing against illicit suppliers, and less money would be spent on law enforcement.

Malaysia, like Australia, needs to take a stand against the illegal trade in tobacco and other forms of contraband, but it should learn from history and see where other countries have failed.

Regrettably, learning from history is not something that governments are good at, even when smuggling has such a long history. On tobacco, Australia never learns.

NST Leader: Staying sane

Monday, October 12th, 2020
In times such as these, when the world is gripped by a pandemic which has claimed more than a million lives and affected billions more, there are bound to be increases in mental health problems. - File pic, for illustration purposes onlyIn times such as these, when the world is gripped by a pandemic which has claimed more than a million lives and affected billions more, there are bound to be increases in mental health problems. – File pic, for illustration purposes only

IN one episode of Designated Survivor, which ran for three seasons, the mental health of the American president, played by Kiefer Sutherland, is called into question after recordings of his therapy sessions are leaked.

Now, Tom Kirkman, the president, is in therapy to deal with his feelings after his wife is killed in a car crash, but it mattered not to Americans as they wondered whether he was fit enough to lead them. In their minds, Kirkman was a crazy man now.

It is just a show, of course. But it hits pretty close to home for those whose mental health has been compromised. It was just on Saturday that we had World Mental Health Day. And we learnt some alarming statistics.

Half a million Malaysians are believed to be suffering from symptoms of depression. Many are suicidal. The problem here — and in fact in many parts of the world, even supposedly enlightened ones like the United States — is that mental health is somewhat of a taboo subject.

Those with such problems are ostracised because they are crazy, looney, mad, gila or some other word to say that he or she is an unfit member of society.

But mental health is a problem that can hit anyone. Loss of a loved one or job, lack of money, the way someone is treated and just about any bad news can trigger depression or some other form of psychological disorder.

In times such as these, when the world is gripped by a pandemic which has claimed more than a million lives and affected billions more, there are bound to be increases in mental health problems. And it is not just the financial aspects of Covid-19 which can trigger things either.

The lack of physical contact during the Movement Control Order, or quarantine, privacy issues, even the lack of outdoor activities. These are all triggers. For healthcare workers, being around Covid-19 patients can be depressing as well.

That and the constant fear that they too could be infected. So what do we do? Who is looking at these issues and the long-term impact they cause?

Do we leave it up to the Health Ministry? Or is this, too, our collective responsibility? The call by Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah for Malaysians to come together and destigmatise mental health issues may be the answer to those questions.

It is not just now, when Covid-19 has caused mental health issues to explode. It is a call for all times.

The ministry has a programme called “Let’s TALK Minda Sihat” which invites people from all walks of life to unite and empower themselves with mental health care and battle the stigma of mental illnesses.

It’s a programme that should be lauded. But it will ultimately fail if we, as Malaysians, do not play our part.

It is as simple as just ensuring that people with mental health issues do not feel like they are “crazy”.

Remove the stigma and people will feel that seeking help is not something out of the ordinary.

For stigma has the unwieldy power that convinces the psychologically disturbed to believe that they are failures.

Stigma prevents them from seeking the help they need. Help is the key to tackling mental health issues.

We all can help. That is all it takes.

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Nearly 500,000 M’sians experiencing symptoms of depression

Sunday, October 11th, 2020

KUALA LUMPUR: Close to half a million people in Malaysia are found to be experiencing symptoms of depression, according to the 2019 National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS 2019).

The Befrienders Kuala Lumpur patron Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye (pic) said NHMS 2019 also found that 424,000 children were experiencing mental health problems.

“Half of all mental disorders begin by the age of 14 and three-quarters by mid-20s. Therefore, this needs to be addressed urgently,” he said in conjunction with the World Health Day 2020, Saturday.

He said the Covid-19 pandemic and Movement Control Order (MCO) have also caused emotional distress to many, following the change in working environment (having to work from home), while others have lost income and even jobs and fear for their safety.

“There are also those struggling with suicidal thoughts. The Health Ministry (MOH) recorded 465 attempted suicide cases between January and June this year,” he added.

Lee said while the situation has improved with the implementation of the Recovery Movement Control Order (RMCO), statistics from The Befrienders Kuala Lumpur shows otherwise with more contacts received from those in distress and feeling suicidal in the months of July, August and September compared to April, May and June.

Therefore, he said the government and MOH needs to allocate more funding for mental healthcare.

Under the 2020 Budget, only RM344.82 million was allocated to mental healthcare which is slightly more than one per cent of the total budget for healthcare, this was lower than the international average 2.8 per cent.

Apart from funding, he said efforts need to be taken to increase the number of mental health professionals in the country such as psychiatrists and clinical psychologists, so that the access to cost-effective treatment will be easier for those who need it.

“Data from 2018 shows that there were 410 psychiatrists in our country with a national average of 1.27 psychiatrists per 100,000 population. This is much lower than the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s recommended ratio of one psychiatrist per 10,000 population,” he said.

Meanwhile, Lee also encouraged the Education Ministry to look into injecting aspects of mental health into the education syllabus including building resilience, learning about stress management and problem-solving skills.

Besides, he said parents need to play an important role in providing a loving and encouraging environment for children to grow up feeling safe to express their feelings and talk about their mental health openly.

“Everyone can contribute to the betterment of mental health. Start with self-care practices such as healthy eating, daily exercising as well as getting adequate sleep every night,” he added.


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Dining out safely with new norms in place

Sunday, October 11th, 2020
Food being served in accordance with new norms.caption Food being served in accordance with new norms.caption

KUALA LUMPUR: Many restaurant owners have adapted to new norms and put all necessary standard operating procedures (SOP) in place.

Customers have also been careful to comply with all new rules, such as temperature scanning, screening of details and physical distancing.

Malaysian Muslim Restaurant Owners Association (Presma) president Datuk Jawahar Ali Taib Khan said its members had observed significant improvements in terms of people adhering to the SOP, so much so that it had become a habit for most.

“The announcement by Senior Minister (Security Cluster) Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob to allow operating hours until 2am in non-Targeted Enhanced Movement Control Order areas has also brought relief to our members, especially for outlets operating near tourist spots and factories where there are night shift workers.

  • “Presma is constantly reminding its members to strictly follow new norms via our Facebook page and also through WhatsApp. We have also placed banners at all outlet entrances to remind customers of the need to follow new norms.”

He said compliance to new norms was mandatory for operators or they would be at risk of being penalised by the authorities if they were lax.

Operators ensure patrons adhere to new norms at their restaurants.Operators ensure patrons adhere to new norms at their restaurants

“However, we sometimes encounter rude customers who are hot-headed but we have to face it as this is part and parcel of our job.

“We will strenuously remind them that if they don’t adhere to the rules and and regulations, they will have to face the consequences. “They should remember that we are still fighting the virus. We are strict and will turn customers away if they refuse to adhere to the SOP. We place posters stating ‘no face masks, no entry’ at the entrance of our premises.”

Jawahar urged member restaurants to provide or sell face masks to customers who did not have one with them when entering premises.

He added that it was also crucial for operators to ensure physical distancing and maintain cleanliness at all times.

“This includes refilling hand sanitisers, providing soaps and recording the details of customers.

Everyone should play their part. “It will also be helpful if police or officers from the Health Ministry make constant rounds and give reminders to the people through loud hailers, especially at crowded places like pasar malam, supermarkets and restaurants.”

Malaysian Indian Restaurant Owners Association president T. Muthusamy said non-compliance to the SOP would not be tolerated.

He said more stringent action must be taken and awareness campaigns added to positively affect individual behaviour.

“Nevertheless, new norms are becoming part of our lifestyle with increasing public awareness. “In general, the people are more concerned now about safety and health when dining outside.”

For more information, go to

By Tharanya Arumugam.

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Experts: suicides are preventable

Saturday, October 10th, 2020

KUALA LUMPUR: Individuals with a psychological or psychiatric disorder are no stranger to suicidal or deliberate self-harm tendencies.

Likewise the case of a 42-year-old fabric entrepreneur who only wanted to be identified as Huzzir. Three years ago, he fell into depression and even attempted suicide after his business suffered huge losses and brought him to the brink of bankruptcy. With professional care Huzzir, who is married and has no children, overcame depression and managed to rebuild his business. Unfortunately, the disorder reared its ugly head again during the Movement Control Order (MCO) earlier this year when his business took a beating and he incurred losses of over RM300,000.

Feelings of extreme anxiety drove him into depression again. “At night I couldn’t sleep and it seemed as if my brain couldn’t stop thinking. I lost my appetite and had gastric issues. I lost the will to live,” he said.

During the first three months of MCO, Huzzir suffered two episodes of a panic attack.

“I felt my whole body going stiff and couldn’t even get up when I had the panic attack,” he said, adding that after the second attack he was taken to hospital for psychiatric evaluation and treatment.

Huzzir said he is now gradually recovering and has attended eight counselling sessions so far. “I am making an effort to return to normal life,” he added.

In a message issued in conjunction with World Mental Health Day tomorrow, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said the Covid-19 pandemic has increased the demand for mental health services as bereavement, isolation, loss of income and fear are triggering mental health conditions or exacerbating existing ones.

“Many people may be facing increased levels of alcohol and drug use, insomnia, and anxiety. Meanwhile, Covid-19 itself can lead to neurological and mental complications, such as delirium, agitation and stroke,” it said.

According to WHO, globally more than 264 million people of all ages suffer from depression while nearly 800,000 people die due to suicide every year, which works out to about one person every 40 seconds.

Depression is also among the main mental disorders affecting Malaysians. Statistics revealed by the National Health and Morbidity Survey showed that in 2017, 29 percent of the population suffered from depression and other mental afflictions compared to 12 percent in 2011.

The survey also found a 10 per cent rise in suicidal behaviour among adolescents aged between 13 and 17.

Recently, Health Minister Datuk Seri  Dr Adham Baba, quoting Ministry of Health figures, said 465 attempted suicide cases underwent treatment between January and June this year.

Befrienders Kuala Lumpur patron Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye, meanwhile, said people with mental health disorders need prompt medical attention because with each suicide case the lives of about 135 people closest to the victim will be impacted as they would be wracked with feelings of guilt and regret which, if not managed well, can affect their own mental well-being as well.

“It is sad to see high suicide rates among the young because most suicides are preventable,” he told Bernama. Lee said the Malaysian society’s culture of not encouraging children to express their innermost feelings was also at fault as many of them find it hard to share their troubles with others.

And although public awareness of mental health issues has increased in recent years, the stigma still exists which explains why people are still reluctant to seek treatment.

“They are worried about being judged and labelled ‘mad’ or ‘lazy’,” he said, adding that the lack of understanding of mental health issues can lead to the public viewing it as trivial.

“They (public) don’t realise the importance of treatment for people facing emotional and mental health problems.”

Lee also said that suicide cases should be recorded as death due to suicide instead of being classified as sudden death as is the practice now.

He said it is important to have accurate data on suicide cases to enable the government and non-governmental organisations to develop appropriate suicide-prevention action plans.

He also urged the government to review Section 309 of the Penal Code of Malaysia to decriminalise attempted suicide.

“This section is no longer relevant. When a person tries to end his or her life, they need medical treatment and support, not punishment,” he pointed out.

According to police statistics, 356 cases of suicide were reported nationwide from 2014 to June 2019. Data by WHO indicates that Malaysia has a suicide rate of 5.5 per 100,000 population.

However, Hospital Universiti Sains Malaysia psychiatrist Dr Mohd Azhar Mohd Yasin said the statistics are not a true reflection of Malaysia’s actual suicide rate as many cases go unreported.

“Many cases of suicide are not registered in the National Suicide Register… the only ones that are registered are those that are taken to the hospital and classified as sudden death,” he said.

He said more than 50 percent of suicide cases involve patients with mental disorders such as depression and severe stress.

Many mentally ill patients who end up in the hospital for treatment are known to have made repeated attempts to take their own life.

Dr Mohd Azhar said 75 percent of people who commit suicide would have earlier shown signs of wanting to kill themselves and would have tried to do so too.

The common warning signs that someone may be suicidal include melancholia, talking about feeling empty and hopeless and about wanting to die, and talking about wanting to go somewhere far away.

According to Dr Mohd Azhar, people contemplating suicide go through three stages. During the first stage, they think about committing suicide; second stage, they plan their suicide and get the substances they would need, for example, poison; and the third stage is when they try to commit the act.

He said women were more likely to remain in the first stage while there is a higher tendency for men to go right up to the third stage.

“This means women tend to do a lot of thinking and planning, while men are at a higher risk of committing the act of suicide.

“But this doesn’t mean that women are not at risk because the thought of suicide is always on their mind and they may attempt to kill themselves,” he added.

by Bernama.

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New respect for the letter ‘C’

Wednesday, October 7th, 2020
-NSTP/File pic-NSTP/File pic

LETTER: I received a message through WhatsApp starting with the question – Did you notice that the alphabet “C” has shot to prominence in this Covid-19 era?

I have to agree with the sender that there is a sea of change on the usage of the alphabet. The writer is of the opinion that it is not a surprise that the alphabet “C” would be used overwhelmingly at the present moment.

Observe these words that starts with the alphabet and used regularly daily, including ‘cough, cold, coronavirus, Covid-19, case, confirm, confinement, contamination, containment and curfew’.

The writer described the two most serious “C” as ‘cemetery’ and ‘cremation’ for obvious reasons and then explaining about the possible remedial drug which is ‘chloroquine’ with the origin of the pandemic said to be from China.

Continuing on, when one talks about the remedy, it usually refers to ‘cleanliness’ while ‘courage’ is among the elements needed to deal with the pandemic.

When we need to get expert advice, ‘compliance’ is needed according to a prescribed standard operating procedure’ which also needs ‘clarity’ of thought to follow and adhere to health guidelines.

Meanwhile, ‘contention’ is the word to describe disagreement on how to overcome the crisis while other quarters proposed everybody to ‘cooperate’ to overcome the pandemic and not forgetting to ‘care’ for the needy.

Lastly, they are those who are waiting for ‘clearance’ after undergoing testing for the pandemic with everyone the world over waiting for the ‘cure’ in the shape of a vaccine.

Jokingly, the WhatsApp writer ends the message with – ’till then take vitamin C.’ What else, I wonder, will people think of in this era of pandemic?

by A. RAZAK.

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Beware of Sick Building Syndrome

Sunday, October 4th, 2020
The World Health Organisation explains that unhealthy buildings are the situation whereby individuals in the building would experience symptoms and feel discomfort without any apparent reason.  (For illustration purposes only)The World Health Organisation explains that unhealthy buildings are the situation whereby individuals in the building would experience symptoms and feel discomfort without any apparent reason. (For illustration purposes only)

HAVE you ever felt suffocated, have a headache or migraine, sore eyes, fatigue, itchy skin, when going into or being in a building, although you have never had these problems before you entered the building?

It is even stranger that you get back to your healthy state after several hours or after you have left the building. The situation you face is not something mysterious, mystical or even magical. This is actually connected to the building’s environment, something called the ‘Sick Building Syndrome’ (SBS).

SBS is a situation where individuals in a building would experience deteriorating health and comfort, and they become chronically ill – a condition closely associated with how long they stay in the building. The longer one has to stay in a building with this syndrome, the unhealthier one will be.

The World Health Organisation explains that unhealthy buildings are the situation whereby individuals in the building would experience symptoms and feel discomfort without any apparent reason.

Studies show that this syndrome can take place due to the poor internal air quality. Health complaints often associated with SBS are headache, sore eyes, clogged nose, flu, itchiness and sore throat, dry cough, dry skin, nausea, difficulty concentrating, fatigue and sensitivity to smell.

This is also related to complaints of coughs, chest tightness, fever, colds and muscle pain made by anyone in that building.

Most of the complaints and issues stated will disappear when sufferers leave the building, though there are those who experience problems persistently although they have left the building.

SBS not only stems from inside the building, but also outside, with people suffering sensitive or allergic reactions, having work stress and other psychosocial factors.

If such symptoms persist in the organisation, there is a great possibility that the organisation will be in the SBS category.

Among the causes of SBS are:

1. Bad air ventilation system causes the carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and other materials to be collected in the building. This will cause the air quality in the building to be polluted. The air conditioning system that provides inappropriate temperatures will bring extreme cold and heat in the building.

2. Building materials such as asbestos release chemical moisture into the air, and this can become the root of irritation to the building’s occupants. For buildings that are fully made of glass, this will cause extreme heat to the buildings.

3. The production of ozone from the equipment in the building. Ozone coming from the photocopy machines and organic solvents for instance, can become the reason behind the SBS that can become troublesome to the health.

4. Biological pollution from the reproduction of molds, bacteria, fungi, and bugs. Poorly or occasionally-maintained buildings will encourage the reproduction of molds, bacteria, fungi and bugs. All these microorganisms are able to breed on the carpet, on wet, damp floors, in the bathrooms, document storage room and other places that are damp and less exposed to sunlight.

5. The lack of natural lighting from the sun will help increase the sick building syndrome condition. The internal environment of the building will become damp, musty and smelly. Other than the sun, the internal lighting from dim lights also encourages this problem.

6. The production of carbon monoxide from parked vehicles close to the building will lead to the sick building syndrome. Other than that, the temperatures in and out of the building that are deemed unsuitable, damp, smelly, noisy and vibrating also lead to the sick building syndrome.

As for solutions due to SBS, firstly, carrying out building and surrounding maintenance inspections are key. This maintenance includes cleaning the air and increasing the rate of natural ventilation into the building. Regular cleaning has to be practised to control dust, also the breeding of microorganisms like fungi and internal filth.

Secondly, controlling

the breeding of fungi. This can be done by overcoming the leaking of water pipes in the building, ensuring that there is no area in the building that is wet or damp and which allows natural lighting to enter the building.

Thirdly, eliminating polluted materials. The use of chemical materials like insecticide and cleaning agents in the organisation must take into account the impacts on human resource’s health and the organisation’s surroundings. If necessary, use insecticides and organic cleaning agents that are user-friendly and environmentally-friendly; and

Lastly, increase communication and education among personnel in the organisation. Among the important components is increasing the awareness of SBS through education and communication. Organisations have to conduct ongoing training, supervision and prepare information related to the danger of the sick building syndrome and the way to overcome it to all human resources in organisations.

In reality, it is the responsibility of all the parties, especially the Occupational Safety and health Committee, to ensure that this syndrome does not happen to your organisation. The failure in managing this syndrome can affect not only the performance and health of human resources, but also the organisation’s productivity and competitiveness.

By Professor Dr Zafir Khan Mohamed Makhbul.

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When fatigue-related illness is misconstrued as attitude, disciplinary issues

Friday, October 2nd, 2020
Fatigue is defined as a more disabling and incapacitating condition, representing a medical and psychological phenomenon. - File pic, for illustration purposes onlyFatigue is defined as a more disabling and incapacitating condition, representing a medical and psychological phenomenon. – File pic, for illustration purposes only

WHEN it comes to Islamic understanding of work, Muslims are always taught that it is part of ibadah and a sacred duty as long as it is done with the intention of obtaining God’s pleasure and promoting goodness, avoiding harm and bad deeds.

Doing a good job should always be part of a Muslim’s mindset and behaviour. Exemplifying good practices in any organisation can be shown by respecting and treating coworkers well and without discrimination.

It is accepted that unhelpful and discriminatory treatment in the workplace is a hazard that could lead to fatigue among workers. Fatigue is a general term that is used to describe tiredness and exhaustion. Operationally, fatigue and tiredness represent a specific condition of low energy and lethargy related to having little or depleted physical and body resources, for a specific period of time.

Generally, it is related to low levels of energy after having long hours of energy consumption or strenuous activities. Although tiredness and fatigue are used interchangeably to describe a condition, the two terms somehow technically and operationally have very different and specific definitions. Tiredness and fatigue are byproducts of an activity.

Fatigue is defined as a more disabling and incapacitating condition, representing a medical and psychological phenomenon. As a medical condition, fatigue may result from co-existing conditions, auto immune system diseases or a complication from certain drug interactions.

For example, fatigue has been confirmed as a complication of Covid-19, long after a victim has recovered from the illness.

Meanwhile, psychologically, it may occur as a pathological reaction to mental and physical stress and illness.

One example is burn-out syndrome that has been implicated as one of the contributing factors in chronic fatigue.

Today, work and fatigue go hand in hand. In fact, fatigue is a significant problem in modern industry as workers are operating in a very competitive and demanding job environment, getting not enough rest that results in accumulative sleep debts, or having multiple jobs or doing long hours of multitasking. In the long run, this hampers individual functioning as it disrupts one’s circadian rhythm.

Getting enough sleep and rest is considered no longer acceptable or more or less immoral. This will have negative implications on the workers themselves, their families and the companies’ productivity. In general, fatigue is a risk factor for any worker at all levels of an organisation. It may bring a company and organisation down, exacerbate communication breakdown and increase relationship fallouts. It will leave everyone feeling confused about what has happened.

By this time, it is already too late. Everyone will start blaming each other, which leaves them in despair a n d g u i l t. T h e worst thing is the economic impact due to productivity loss, absenteeism, or presenteeism, and superfluous health benefit reimbursements that occur as a result of chronic fatigue.

The most crippling and disabling signs of someone with this condition could be musculoskeletal and joint pain and discomfort, mental and physical stress, burnout syndrome, poor performance and long-term absence due to sickness.

It is a matter of fact that fatigue syndrome had been recognised as a real medical problem as early as in 1969 by the World Health Organisation.

However, illness recognition, prevention and interventions are among the major issues faced by organisations, and even worse, this condition is always misconstrued as an attitude or disciplinary issue.

In the end, a company may lose productivity and health compensation for issues that could have been recognised early.

Lack of skilled and trained personnel, scarcity of knowledge and inadequate information in handling related health and safety issues by the organisation are among the most identifiable contributing factors.

Based on the cost-effectiveness model of management standard, serious involvement by the company is warranted to overcome the condition.

By Khairul Azhar Idris.

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Use our hearts to beat heart disease

Tuesday, September 29th, 2020
Malaysians have failed to properly acknowledge that heart disease has been the leading cause of death in the country for the past 20 years. - NST/file picMalaysians have failed to properly acknowledge that heart disease has been the leading cause of death in the country for the past 20 years. – NST/file pic

EVERY year on the 29th of September, nations across the world celebrate ‘World Heart Day’. Today, we recognise and raise awareness on the effects of an unhealthy high-calorie diet and sedentary lifestyle on society.

This year in particular is extremely challenging. A slow economy, rising prevalence of cardiovascular risk factors and the ongoing battle against Covid-19 pushes the need for a collective effort to curb the rising death rate posed by heart disease.

Malaysians have failed to properly acknowledge that heart disease has been the leading cause of death in the country for the past 20 years. We were shocked by data from the 2019 National Health and Morbidity Survey showing the high prevalence of diabetes in 1 out of every 5 persons.

Diabetes contributes to the aggressive narrowing of blood vessels in the body as well as weakening heart muscles, increasing the chances of heart failure as well as sudden cardiac death. Compound this with smoking habits and raised blood pressure, we are sitting on a ticking time bomb.

When death occurs in the elderly, it is devastating. But for heart disease to afflict the young, it leaves one speechless. It is no longer uncommon to hear of friends or colleagues in the prime of their careers who would pass out or suffer from heart attacks. They leave a young family, broken and parentless, a scar that never heals. The National Cardiovascular Registry indicates that 25 per cent (that’s one in four!) of all heart attacks happens to those below the age of 50!

The theme for World Heart Day 2020 is ‘Use heart to beat heart disease’. We must embrace the need for change and realise that we must take better care of our heart now especially in times of Covid-19. It is during these challenging times that our heart is most vulnerable.

Many are wary of visiting healthcare facilities, neglecting potential symptoms that could lead to serious heart disease. Many patients experience worsening control of their blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar due to stress, caffeine consumption, lack of sleep and the inability to exercise exacerbated by the pandemic.

Today, us heart doctors urge you to listen to your hearts and take the necessary steps to make lifestyle changes for the better.

Use your heart to influence those around you. As individuals, we should lead others by practicing a healthy lifestyle and set a good example to loved ones, especially to younger generations.

As employers, we should invest in the health of our employees as it helps boost productivity and makes for a better work environment in the long haul. Employers could conduct staff health screenings and empower staff to stay healthy by creating incentives to boost physical activity.

Use your heart to make better choices. If you are at risk of developing heart disease, adopt a low-calorie, high-fibre diet and avoid sugary drinks. Make small changes like taking the stairs instead of the elevator and walking to the local shops instead of driving.

Use your heart and listen to your body. Initiate conversations with doctors and experts to ensure your risk factors and illness are in control. Know that healthcare facilities are safe to visit for those in need. Take all the necessary precautions to avoid Covid-19 but do not neglect your heart in the process.

We must snap out of this lull and apathy. We must act as individuals and as a society to reduce heart disease and the damages it brings to families and communities. Use your heart to beat heart disease. Now and forever.

By Prof Dr Sazzli Kasim.

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Covid-19 and other deadly epidemics

Monday, September 28th, 2020
A couple walks among thousands of Spanish flags, representing the Spanish victims of COVID-19, at the Roma park in Madrid. - AFP picA couple walks among thousands of Spanish flags, representing the Spanish victims of COVID-19, at the Roma park in Madrid. – AFP pic

PARIS: The novel coronavirus pandemic, which has passed the milestone of one million deaths, has a higher toll compared with other modern viruses, although so far it has been far less deadly than the Spanish flu a century ago.

As the pandemic continues, the death toll from an AFP tally is only provisional, but it provides a reference point for comparing the new coronavirus with that of other viruses, past and present.

SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for Covid-19 infection, has been the deadliest of the 21st century viruses.

In 2009, the H1N1 virus, or swine flu, caused a global pandemic and left an official death toll of 18,500.

This was later revised upwards by the medical journal The Lancet, to between 151,700 and 575,400 dead.

In 2002-2003, the SARS virus (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) that emerged from China was the first coronavirus to spark global fears, but killed just 774 people in the final toll.

The Covid-19 toll is often compared to that of deadly seasonal flu, though the latter rarely makes the headlines.

Globally, seasonal flu accounts for up to 650,000 deaths, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

In the 20th century, two major non-seasonal flu pandemics – Asian flu in 1957-1958 and Hong Kong flu in 1968-1970 – each killed around one million people, according to counts carried out afterwards.

Both pandemics occurred in different circumstances to Covid-19, before globalisation intensified and accelerated economic exchange and travel – and with it the rapid spread of deadly viruses.

The greatest catastrophe of modern pandemics to date, the flu pandemic of 1918-1919 also known as Spanish flu, wiped out some 50 million people according to research published in the 2000s.

The death toll from the new coronavirus is already far higher than that of the haemorrhagic fever Ebola, which was first identified in 1976 and in its latest 2018-2020 outbreak killed nearly 2,300 people.

In four decades, periodic Ebola outbreaks have killed some 15,000 people, all in Africa.

Ebola has a far higher fatality rate than Covid-19: around 50 per cent of people who are infected die from it, and this has risen to 90 per cent in some of the epidemics.

But Ebola is less contagious than other viral diseases, namely because it is not airborne but transmitted through direct and close contact.

Dengue fever, which can also be deadly, has a lower toll. This flu-like illness spread by the bite of an infected mosquito has been on the rise for two decades but causes just a few thousand deaths per year.

AIDS is by far the most deadly modern epidemic: almost 33 million people around the world have died of the disease, which affects the immune system.

First detected in 1981, no effective vaccine has been found.

But retroviral drugs, when taken regularly, efficiently stop the illness in its tracks and heavily reduce the risk of contamination.

This treatment has helped bring down the death toll from its peak in 2004 of 1.7 million deaths to 690,000 in 2009, according to UNAIDS.

The hepatitis B and C viruses also have a high death toll, killing some 1.3 million people every year, most often in poor countries.

by AFP.

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