Thursday, June 30, 2016

Could cosmetic surgery prevent Alzheimer’s?

It’s a question without a definitive answer. But, according to an editorial by plastic surgeon and Editor-in-Chief of the Aesthetic Surgery Journal, Foad Nahai, M.D., there are clues that suggest a link may exist and answers are worth pursuing.

Dr. Nahai, who is the Maurice J. Jurkiewicz chair in plastic surgery and professor of surgery at Emory University School of Medicine, in Atlanta, Ga., says he started to connect the potential dots when he read an editorial published in the Journal last year in June by Steven H. Dayan, M.D. In it, Dr. Dayan, who has shared his work with Cosmetic Surgery Times, suggests that aesthetic medicine can improve not only patients’ moods, but also the moods of those around them.

Other studies, according to Dr. Nahai, suggest toxin treatments that relax the face benefit people with depression.

Yet another study propelled the scientific journal editor’s questioning. He came across the Baltimore Longitudinal Study on Aging, in which researchers suggested that young and middle-age adults who had negative age stereotypes were far more likely to have Alzheimer’s later in life compared to those with positive stereotypes. In that study, researchers found adults who earlier in life had more negative age stereotypes had steeper hippocampal-volume loss and greater accumulation of neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid plaques.

“That sort of stuck with me. If cosmetic treatments improve somebody’s mood; help someone’s depression, is this something that we should look at?” Dr. Nahai says. “Would there ever be a possibility that if individuals somehow changed their stereotype of aging, either through what they see in the media or what they see in the mirror, would that lead to their having less likelihood of Alzheimer’s when they’re older?”

No doubt that asking the question in the editorial, which was published online in March and will be in the printed Journal this summer, would fuel controversy, Dr. Nahai says.

“Basically, this [editorial] is to challenge my colleagues and me to think beyond what we do,” he says.

Dr. Nahai writes that his intention is not to promote a nationwide marketing campaign suggesting aesthetic surgery might prevent Alzheimer’s disease. But he believes that asking the question about whether aesthetic surgery could impact Alzheimer’s risk is worthy of a broader discussion. He says he’s also hoping to stimulate research.

“Frankly, I think the study that could come out of this would be to look at individuals who had routinely had cosmetic treatments — maybe even a facelift — going back to age 40 up to age 70, and compare them to those who have not had those treatments to see if there is any difference in the incidence of Alzheimer’s,” Dr. Nahai tells Cosmetic Surgery Times.

Dr. Nahai reports no relevant disclosures.

ASEAN - Five ASEAN nations create alliance

CHIANG MAI, 10 June 2016: A new alliance to promote flight connectivity and tourism packages among destination partners — Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam and Thailand — should boost the region’s tourism.

Tourism representatives from the CLMVT countries formally launched the newest marketing alliance at the Thailand Travel Mart Plus 2016, Thursday.

Tagged CLMVT, the group is will conduct joint tourism promotions under a common banner and logo  “CLMVT Link: Prosper Together”.

During the launch press conference, Thursday, Tourism Authority of Thailand governor, Yuthasak Supasorn, said country alliances are used as a key strategic tool to boost tourism, which in turn strengthens economies.

“Today is the first step for CLMVT, we are joining hands to demonstrate we can cooperation to encourage the region tourism industry.”

The alliance has its roots in the an earlier grouping known as CLMV that was established to promote aviation routes and tour packages between Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam. It was first convened during the ITE a trade show in Ho Chi Minh City 11 years back.

In 2013,  the tourism leaders from the four nations extended an invitation to Thailand, through the Ministry of Tourism and Sports, to join the alliance and informal meetings have been held since as a sub-committee of ASEAN. Now at TTM  the alliance has been formerly launched to the trade.

“To boost the region’s tourism industry, TAT has talked with local airlines such as Thai Airways International, Thai Smile, Bangkok Airways, Thai AirAsia and Nok Air to study ways to open more direct flights in the region.”

Upcoming intra-regional direct flights will include Thai AirAsia’s new daily Bangkok – Vientiane flight starting 1 July. Bangkok Airways is considering a new daily flights from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang possibly in  October. Meanwhile, Nok Air plans to launch three weekly flights between Bangkok and Mandalay around October or November this year.

“The increase in airline connectivity will boost regional tourism….CLMVT has potential to promote tourism products and extend the footprint of tour packages across the five countries,” Yuthasak explained.
ASEAN countries welcomed slightly more than 98 million international tourists to the region, last year, up 7.3%, the TAT governor noted. CLMVT members represented around 26.8 million of those arrivals in 2010, rising to 44.42 million in 2014, or about 42% of the total visitors to ASEAN.

“These statistics show the potential of the CLMVT market as well as its importance to the ASEAN Community. CLMVT countries is a sub-grouping of ASEAN, but if it can strengthen unity, it will ultimately benefit the ASEAN platform.”

Besides air connectivity the group will develop tour package routes, attend roadshow and travel fairs to boost travel.

Cambodia’s Ministry of Tourism deputy general director, Try Chhiv, said that spreading the flow of tourists from packed attractions to secondary destinations was a priority.

“Cambodia will promote green sustainable tourism…to the coastal area and northeast regions to take the pressure off Siem Reap, home of Angkor Wat.”

Lao PDR’s Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism’s Public Relations Division Tourism Marketing Department director, Manisakone Thammavongxay, agreed that increasing aviation and transport links between the countries would help encourage the region’s tourism industry.

Myanmar’s Ministry of Hotels and Tourism deputy general director, Khin Than Win, said more low-cost airline services were needed to fill the connectivity gaps in the region.

“Currently, only Thai AirAsia and Nok Air offer low-cost services to Myanmar….increasing low-cost travel will help to boost tourism….in addition, we will open more border checkpoints to encourage tourism and trade in border provinces.”

Vietnam National Administration of Tourism’s Tourism Marketing Department deputy general director, Vu Nam, said familiarisation trip for tour operators and media would be hosted in CLMVT region.

“Besides air connectivity between destinations in the region, we also need to create more tourism products and link destinations through themed tour packages.”

Commenting on criticism that the alliance would duplicate the work of the Mekong Tourism Office, established and funded by the same five countries plus China, the TAT governor countered: “There are many platforms promoting tourism… we are part of the GMS (Greater Mekong Sub-region) and also ASEAN, all platforms we use to promote tourism.”

Funding will be on a project basis, he said, probably split five ways, but in some instances a lead partner could underwrite a bigger share of a project’s costs.

The group has convened as a sub-committee under ASEAN’s tourism umbrella. Now the alliance says it will embark on joint promotions starting with attendance at trade show and the exchange of tourism information to be channelled through country tourism offices worldwide.  Thailand has 26 offices overseas that will assist in distribution.

ASEAN - Why ASEAN must pay more attention to the Mekong Delta

The recent diplomatic spat between Indonesia and Singapore over the city-state’s effort to prosecute an Indonesian businessman for his alleged involvement in the haze last year was a frank reminder of the devastating impact man-made disasters can have on the region.

Yet while the regional haze — considered the worst since 1997 — attracted most of the headlines around the world, another man-made disaster has struck the ASEAN region virtually almost under the radar: the Mekong Delta drought.

The great Mekong River — which from its source in the Tibetan plateau of China passes through Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam before flowing out to the South China Sea — is at its lowest level in a century after experiencing its worst dry spell in 90 years.

Experts suggest a combination of the stronger than-normal El Niño weather pattern, climate change and, most worryingly, the construction of dams along Mekong River, are responsible for this disaster.

At an estimated 4,350 kilometers in length, it should be remembered that the Mekong River provides livelihoods to an estimated 60 million people who live along its basin, with 90 percent of Vietnam’s rice export coming from the Mekong Delta and Cambodia’s fresh water lake of Tonle Sap providing 60 percent of Cambodians’ protein intake.

Indeed, the fishery sector of the Lower Mekong Basin is estimated at a total value of US$17 billion per year.

At the same time, the implications of the Mekong Delta drought go beyond the Mekong subregion.

As Richard Cronin from the Stimson Center in the United States notes, “People in Indonesia and the Philippines will go hungry if the Thais and Vietnamese don’t produce enough rice […] this is a preview of the longer-term effect of development and climate change to the Mekong Delta.”

A total of 11 mainstream hydropower dams and a further 30 tributary dams have been proposed for construction over the next 20 years.

These include the controversial Xayaburi Dam in Laos which has drawn opposition from neighboring Cambodia and Vietnam. The arguments in favor of such dam projects are that they provide cheaper electricity, will fuel economic development and alleviate poverty.

For a land-locked, impoverished country such as Laos with limited natural resources and a gross domestic product (GDP) of only $12 billion, the economic argument in favor of dam construction is obvious. Aiming for 7 percent GDP growth, the Lao government hopes to export the energy produced by its hydropower dams to neighboring countries.

Despite this, question marks have been raised over the supposed economic benefits and the purported minimal environmental impacts claimed by governments and dam companies.

Critics argue that existing and future dams threaten to reduce fish stocks, decrease the sediments needed for rice harvest, change the quality and quantity of water flows, and lead to unpredictable surges that will have major consequences on communities in the Mekong subregion.

These concerns appear to have materialized with one expert arguing fish yields have dropped by up to 70 percent due to hydropower dams and that whereas villagers reported they could catch 5 to 10 kilograms of fish a day 10 years ago, the catch has gone down to 1 to 2kg a day at present.

At the same time, changes to water flows caused by dams have affected rice yields. Areas that used to be dry in the dry season are now permanently inundated and areas that used to be flooded in the wet season remain dry.

For Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, which relies on the annual floods during the wet season to provide nutrient-rich sediments for its rice fields, such unseasonal droughts are devastating. One Vietnamese official suggested that mainstream hydropower projects on the Mekong River had caused a loss of $231 million in seafood and agriculture output to the Mekong Delta.

Given the transboundary nature of the issues surrounding water resource security in the Mekong subregion, it is unsurprising that efforts have been made at the regional level to ensure greater cooperation. The most notable regional mechanism is the Mekong Agreement of 1995 which established the Mekong River Commission (MRC).

MRC, however, is ineffective to manage the transboundary water resources due to the lack of legally binding agreements. Criticisms have also been made of the Mekong Agreement 1995 itself for its vague definitions of key terms such as the acceptable minimum monthly natural flow and natural reverse flow, and for the limited “notification” procedure that is required by riparian states to inform others about their water development projects.

As one expert pointed out, the agreement means upstream dams in Laos do not require the prior informed consent of Cambodia even though it may have a negative impact downstream.

As far back as 1997 ASEAN had already recognized the need to develop a regional water conservation program as stated in the Hanoi Plan of Action. Similarly in 2003, ASEAN senior officials on the environment adopted the ASEAN Long Term Strategic Plan for Water Resources Management, which identified five key challenges including moving towards integrated river basin management.

Two years later in 2005, ASEAN produced the ASEAN Strategic Plan of Action on Water Resources Management. Recognizing the importance of greater cooperation among riparian states in the Mekong subregion, in 2010 the ASEAN Secretariat announced at a signing ceremony in Hua Hin, Thailand, a partnership agreement with the MRC “in the development and management of the Mekong’s water resources”.

Despite all the efforts, it should be noted that the results of the institutional partnership between ASEAN and the MRC are “limited” due to lack of political will, leadership and resource mobilization.

Tellingly, at the 2010 signing ceremony, the then ASEAN Secretary-General did not attend but was instead represented by the Director of Finance and Infrastructure Directorate of the ASEAN Secretariat.

Moreover, the attendant community blueprints to the ASEAN Community Vision 2025 rarely mentions water resource security.

Indeed the term “water resources” is only found once under the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community Blueprint 2025. Limiting water resources to the socio-cultural pillar is in stark contrast to the riparian states that identify it as a matter of national security.

One Cambodian think tank argues that “national state security is inextricably linked to water usage and management, and the stability of Cambodia as a state can in this manner be disrupted by factors contributing to water insecurity”. In this sense it is questionable why the issue was not included in the ASEAN Political-Security Community Blueprint 2025.

As such, while regional efforts to ensure water resource security in the Mekong Delta have been made, they have clearly not gone far enough. More attention needs to be given to water resource security in the Mekong subregion and it should be recognized by ASEAN as an issue of critical concern for the region, that has implications that go beyond the riparian states, and that it is a cross-pillar issue that cannot be limited to the socio-cultural realm. The lives of 60 million ASEAN citizens depend on it!

A Ibrahim Almuttaqi

The writer heads the ASEAN Studies Program at The Habibie Center in Jakarta. The views expressed are his own.

ASEAN, China target $1 trillion in trade by 2020

ASEAN and China are seeking to double their trade value in the next four years, setting an ambitious target of US$1 trillion by 2020.

“Increasing trade is the kind of concrete achievement that is one of our main focuses as ASEAN and China enter the 25th year of our cooperation this year,” the Foreign Ministry's ASEAN dialogue partners and inter-regional cooperation director, Derry Aman, told journalists in Jakarta on Thursday.

Derry said China, the world’s second-largest economy, was ASEAN's biggest trade partner and as of December 2014, ASEAN-China trade amounted to $366.5 billion per year.

"To reach the targeted $1 trillion by 2020, ASEAN and China strengthened their free trade agreement last year," Derry said.

According to official data, China is still only the fourth-biggest  investor in ASEAN, after the European Union, Japan and the US in terms of total investment

Between 2012 and 2014, Derry said, China’s investment in ASEAN totaled $21.3 billion and this number was targeted to increase to $150 billion by 2020. 

This year marks 25 years of China-ASEAN cooperation, since relations officially began in 1991.

Derry said the two parties had realized various forms of cooperation, especially those relating to the three pillars of ASEAN, namely political-security, economic and socio-cultural cooperation. This year, for example, he said, the two parties were focusing on the ASEAN-China education exchange.  (ebf)

Liza Yosephine

Philippines - “The Punisher” takes the Philippines Presidency

The international and domestic implications of Duterte’s win

Having generated a maelstrom of controversy during his campaign, Rodrigo Duterte has analysts scrambling to understand what his presidency will mean for the Philippines and the region, writes Imelda Deinla.

Even before he took the top job, newly-elected President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Roa Duterte, gained international notoriety for his crass joke about the rape of an Australian nun and crude insults against the Pope, the United States and Singapore during his campaign sorties.

Many analysts are concerned that a Duterte presidency will lead the country towards economic perdition by damaging its relations with key economic and political allies, and tarnish the Philippines’ international image. Worse, they are alarmed that Duterte’s bellicose personality will further escalate tension with China over the South China Sea dispute.

Initial fears over a possible Duterte presidency soon dissipated after he won by a large margin. The stock market greeted his victory enthusiastically, posting a nine per cent jump, while the Philippine peso rose against other currencies in Asia.

Having articulated little of his economic and governance platform during the campaign, there is lingering doubt over what a Duterte presidency will mean for the country and its foreign relations. What will Philippine foreign policy be under Duterte? How will Duterte, a former mayor of Davao City and a public prosecutor, provide leadership in navigating the often complex and delicate process of international diplomacy? And how will his administration deal with China, and work with its neighbours in ASEAN?

Domestic policies are shaped by both domestic and international interests. Good leadership is needed to manage competing claims and steer a common vision that serves broader goals and interests. The election discourse clearly underlined a popular demand for inclusive growth where many ordinary Filipinos expressed their frustration over the elites’ privileges in reaping economic benefits. It brought to the fore the need for a fair and effective legal system, the delivery of public services by competent and apolitical bureaucracies, a safe and secure environment, and a level playing field for economic opportunities.

Foreign relations did not get as much attention as domestic concerns in the campaign. However, business unease over Duterte’s remarks on the US, Australia and China reflects that sustaining economic growth depends on favourable external relations. These include the economy’s need for a sustained inflow of foreign investments, and for overseas employment for Filipinos and their dollar remittances. Enhancing regional cooperation and maintaining security and stability is essential in increasing investment and trade flows that will in turn generate domestic growth and jobs.

Duterte’s newly released 8-point Economic Agenda, and early pronouncements on increased diplomacy with China and a state visit to Indonesia, point to a measured approach to intertwined domestic and international issues. If this is the case, it will sustain macroeconomic policies and governance reforms that stimulated growth and generated foreign investor confidence under the Aquino administration.

The difference with the Duterte administration is the commitment to accelerate long-promised reforms, and allow the majority and marginal sectors to benefit from economic growth. Priority measures will accelerate infrastructure growth, enhance economic competition by addressing structural barriers of monopolies and concentration, create a more competitive business environment, and improve the ease of doing business. These are programs that were started by the past administration but have lagged or been constrained by political rent-seeking and corruption. The bungled attempt by Telstra in the Philippines to invest in telecommunications was largely blamed on a ‘duopoly’ in this sector, and a weak competition and regulatory regime. Duterte’s transition team has promised a more transparent administration, and have vowed to implement freedom of information in the executive department and tackle issues of unfair playing fields and corruption in government. A Davao Job Fair is planned for recruiting the best and brightest to fill over 400 top jobs in the bureaucracy.

Duterte’s economic agenda makes big promises, putting constitutional amendment as a top priority by proposing a shift from the current presidential-unitary system of government to a parliamentary-federal system and proposing a review of nationalist restrictions on foreign ownership that have so far only benefitted the entrenched elites in the country.

At the micro level, the economic program will address problems in land administration and management, where disputes over land have been one of the major causes of conflict and violence. Moreover, a progressive tax system and expansion of the conditional cash transfer system are aimed at facilitating a ‘trickle-down’ of wealth to the poor and marginalized sector.

Strengthening regional cooperation and fostering stronger relations with neighbours seem to be high on Duterte’s agenda, as evidenced by the announcement of a state visit to Indonesia.

ASEAN should also be a priority for the new President; the Philippines will assume the Chair of the organisation in 2017. It is an opportunity to enhance trade relations under the umbrella of the ASEAN economic community which, in recent years, have influenced governance and regulatory strategy in the Philippines such as reforms in customs administration and trade facilitation.

The Philippines is not a key player in intra-regional trade but has good prospects for benefitting from possible freedom of movement of skilled labour given its vast supply of educated and English-speaking professionals. A revitalisation of the BIMP-EAGA, an ASEAN initiative in which Duterte and Davao have played a major role since the 1990s, is expected to be injected with more vigour as the new President is known to support economic initiatives that would stimulate development in Mindanao.

It is also good time to seek greater cooperation from ASEAN to strengthen its position on the South China Sea issue. However, it is not yet clear what Duterte means by ‘more diplomacy’ except by stating the need ‘to talk’ with China. Duterte will have to manage this carefully, given that the Philippines had also strengthened ties with the United States under the Aquino presidency to counter China’s growing aggressiveness in the disputed area.

There are high expectations of the Duterte administration on both the domestic and international fronts although it is too early in the day to judge whether he can meet these. But his ‘can-do’ and ‘problem-solving’ attitude has captivated a broad spectrum of Filipinos and President Rody, as he wants to be called, may well just surprise the critics.

Imelda Deinla

ASEAN - S'pore outpaces US and Britain in productivity growth

Singapore's productivity growth is often criticised for being lacklustre, but an economist from Oxford Economics said the country has done "remarkably well".

Productivity grew 1.5 per cent between 2000 and 2015, outpacing gains in similarly high-income countries such as the United States and Britain. The US recorded productivity growth of 1.2 per cent while the United Kingdom posted a 0.9 per cent expansion, said Ms Priyanka Kishore, lead Asia economist at the British-based global advisory organisation.

"Though Singapore is already a mature and urbanised economy with little scope for sectoral shifts to increase productivity, it has done remarkably well, comfortably outperforming other high-income economies in terms of percentage growth," she said.

She attributed Singapore's productivity gains to high household savings as a stable supply of finance is needed to invest in both physical and human capital.

She also noted that Asean countries have had "a very impressive track record in productivity over the last 15 years". Productivity in the region grew by 3 per cent a year between 2000 and 2015, 2 percentage points higher than the annual growth rate of Latin America and 1.44 percentage points higher than Africa's.

Ms Kishore, who is also an economic adviser to the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW), attributed Asean's productivity growth to several factors. The key one was the sectoral shift from agriculture to manufacturing and services. Citing Viet- nam's strong productivity growth, she noted employment in agriculture there has come down from 60 per cent a decade ago to 40 per cent now, with room to drop even more.

South-east Asia is poised for more productivity gains over the next five years, with Vietnam leading the pack, added Ms Kishore, who presented the ICAEW-commissioned report on the region yesterday to ICAEW members and members from other partner organisations.

"It is best placed in terms of urbanisation as well as working population. Its labour productivity is still low but we expect that to continue rising over the next five years, and that should enable a high productivity gain," she said.

Despite projected productivity gains, the short-term outlook for Asean is clouded by factors such as weak global trade. Ms Kishore added that limited monetary and fiscal stimulus can be expected, as most Asean countries except Singapore are facing an overall deficit.

While the report forecast robust growth in the Philippines and Indonesia because of healthy domestic demand and strong macro-economic fundamentals, it said Thailand's chronic political uncertainty could impact economic growth and Malaysia could come under pressure from falling oil revenues, high household debt and the ongoing 1MDB saga.

MS PRIYANKA KISHORE, lead Asia economist at Oxford Economics.

Malaysia - M’sia first in Asean to ratify convention on minimum wage

Human Resources Minister Richard Riot says this shows commitment to adhere to international labour standards, especially in providing greater social and labour protection for workers.

PUTRAJAYA: Malaysia is the first among Asean member countries and the fifth country in Asia to ratify the International Labour Convention on minimum wage.

Human Resources Minister Richard Riot Jaem, who represented Malaysia at the conference, said Malaysia deposited the documents (the instrument of ratification) to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) at the 105th International Labour Conference in Geneva, Switzerland.

The instrument of ratification was deposited to ILO Director-General Guy Ryder as a sign of ratification of the International Labour Convention on minimum wages, namely Convention No 131: Minimum Wage Fixing Convention 1970 (C131), he said.

“This Convention is an international instrument which outlines the method of determining the minimum wage and related matters to be observed by the countries that ratified the convention,” he said in a statement here today.

Present at the convention was Malaysian Employers Federation Executive Director Shamsuddin Bardan; Malaysian Trades Union Congress Secretary-General N Gopal Krishnam; and the Congress of Unions of Employees in the Public and Civil Services Secretary-General Lok Yim Pheng.

According to Riot, the Malaysian Government, as a member of the ILO, had previously ratified the 16th ILO Convention, which is still in force.

The move is a positive measure taken to improve Malaysia’s national labour standards in every aspect since the minimum wage was introduced in 2013.

“It also demonstrates Malaysia’s commitment to adhere to international labour standards, especially in providing greater social and labour protection for workers.”

Elaborating, Riot said the government had held discussions and consultations and sought the views of ILO in the National Wages Consultative Council before deciding to ratify the International Labour Convention.

He said the government believed the system and the basic structure of the country’s existing minimum wage was in accordance with the requirements of articles under the International Labour Convention.
“The government hopes that with this ratification, Malaysia will be able to improve the implementation of the existing minimum wage policy in the country, in line with the objective of becoming a high-income nation by 2020.”

In the meantime, Riot urged employers to fully support the implementation of the basic minimum wage to improve the lives of workers, especially those in the low-income group.

He said the ministry would notify all parties, including the media, regarding the ratification of the convention and the need to comply with all articles stipulated in the convention by all employers.
The four-day International Labour Conference began on June 6.


ASEAN - Hanoi hosts ASEAN policy dialogue on student mobility

The third policy dialogue in the framework of the EU project on Support to Higher Education in the ASEAN Region (SHARE) opened in Hanoi on June 8, gathering over 150 senior educational leaders, managers, scholars and students from the host country, ASEAN and the EU.

Delegates at the event discussed necessary tools to enhance student mobility, especially through credit transfer systems and scholarships, towards the goal of creating a dynamic tertiary educational sector and enhancing the competitiveness of ASEAN member countries and the bloc as a whole.

Speaking at the event, Deputy Minister of Education and Training Bui Van Ga highlighted the Vietnamese government’s policy of encouraging foreign investors and universities to open their campuses in Vietnam. There are already a number of international universities operating in the country, such as the Vietnam-Germany University (VGU), the Vietnam-Japan University (VJU), and the Vietnam-France University.

Besides this, the country has actively developed a national qualification framework which is based on the ASEAN qualification framework, in order to further bolster student mobility as well as labour movement in the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC).

Head of the EU Delegation to Vietnam Ambassador Bruno Angelet shared that the EU is supporting 18 research projects in Vietnam, which are being carried out by leading universities in Vietnam and the EU. These projects are in such areas as substantial agriculture, food safety and energy management.
SHARE is an EU funded project worth 10 million EUR with an overarching objective of strengthening regional cooperation, and enhancing the quality, competitiveness and internationalisation of ASEAN higher education institutions and students, contributing to an ASEAN Community beyond 2015.

Starting from 2016, the project will provide about 500 scholarships for students from the ASEAN region, mainly through student exchanges and credit recognisation in the region.

It also aims to enhance cooperation between the EU and the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) and to create lasting benefits from the harmonisation of higher education across ASEAN.


ASEAN - PH seen to outperform Asean peers’ growth

Philippine economic growth would outperform those of its peers in the region this year on the back of robust domestic demand despite a weak global economy, according to the World Bank.

“Among the large developing Asean economies, Vietnam and the Philippines have the strongest growth prospects. In the Philippines, growth is projected to firm to 6.4 percent in 2016, with an accelerated implementation of public-private partnership projects and strong domestic demand. The country benefits from diversified export markets and low global commodity prices,” the World Bank said in its June 2016 Global Economic Prospects report released Wednesday in Manila.

The Washington-based multilateral lender kept its forecasts in April of a 6.4-percent gross domestic product (GDP) growth for the Philippines in 2016 and 6.2 percent in 2017 and 2018.

The World Bank’s growth projection for this year, however, was below the government’s 6.8-7.8 percent target range. Economic managers had said the lower end of the 2016 GDP growth goal was attainable given the faster-than-expected 6.9- percent expansion in the first quarter.

In the next two years, the Philippine economy would further grow on expectations of sustained low commodity prices and strong consumption, the World Bank said.

The World Bank noted that in recent years, economic growth in the country was being “bolstered by steady inflows of remittances and trade in services.”

Amid slow global trade, “strong domestic demand underlay growth in commodity importers” in the Philippines, the World Bank said.

The World Bank also noted of the country’s improved macroeconomic fundamentals. For one, “tighter macro-prudential policies in several of the larger regional economies (Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines) have already resulted in moderating credit growth.”

Also, the World Bank cited higher revenue generation in recent years. “In the Philippines, fiscal deficits for the general government narrowed significantly, from 3.5 percent of GDP in 2010 to just under 1 percent in 2015, helped by strong revenue collection through faster growth and improved tax administration.”

The World Bank urged Asean countries, including the Philippines, to establish fiscal policy measures “within a medium-term framework to create fiscal space and improve public expenditure efficiency.”

“This can be achieved through improved revenue mobilization (in Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos and the Philippines), reduced dependence on fiscal revenue from energy sectors (in Malaysia, Mongolia and Papua New Guinea), and increased and more efficient investment (in Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand),” the World Bank said.

The lender also urged the Philippines to tap the growth potentials being presented by its young population.

Ben O. de Vera

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Philippines - DOH paving way for addressing problem on ‘concentration’ of health professionals in urban areas

MANILA – The Department of Health (DOH) has started efforts addressing the so-called “maldistribution” of healthcare professionals in tertiary hospitals in urban areas as a way of closing the health gap pertaining to the long problem on unavailability of healthcare workers in isolated communities of the country.

According to DOH Secretary Janette l. Garin, they are enhancing the Doctors to the Barrio (DTTB) program with other innovative solutions that are appropriate to the current situations and at the same time beneficial to those who have been trained to be health professionals but not yet Board examination passers.

The DTTB program was launched in 1993 in response to the shortage of doctors in remote communities in the Philippines. While the program has attracted physicians to work in such areas for the prescribed two-year period, ongoing monitoring shows that very few have chosen to remain there for longer and be absorbed by the Local Government Unit (LGU).

This assessment was carried out to explore the reasons for the low retention rates and to propose possible strategies to reverse the trend.

“A new innovation was started so far by the DOH last year. There are actually two which we have created – one is the Public Health Associates, and the other one is the Universal Health Care (UHC) Implementers,” Secretary Garin said.

She explained that such solutions are something that the DOH intends to enhance as part of preventing healthcare professionals’ concentration in healthcare centers of urban areas.

She said that with the enhanced DTTB program, the problem wherein some patients have not seen health professionals in the remotest and hard-to-reach areas will be provided with continuing solutions.

According to her, Public Health Associates are actually nursing graduates who have not yet taken the Board examination or not lucky to pass it.

She said that the UHC Implementers are also graduates of Doctor of Medicine and their job will be a course “refresher” and at the same time give them the chance to earn while continuing to enhance their experience and exposure.

“We have started with seven UHC Implementers per province. Some of them, well most of them, have not yet passed the Board exam. We are doing this to help them – to help this pool of healthcare professionals because we believe that we have to boost their morale. That is why we encourage them (through the DTTB program) to increase their knowledge with practical things that can complement their teachings in the four corners of their classrooms and that can possibly help them pass the Board exam,” she emphasized.

She further said that on top of that, the very important contribution of the Public Health Associates and the UHC Implementers is the fact that they will remain as pool of people – not all of them but some of them – they will remain as a pool of people where training and knowledge invested by DOH will remain in the institution.

“And as the other healthcare workers embark on new journey – going abroad or seeking greener pastures – health care networks and healthcare facilities, especially those in the needed areas, will not be left without a person with the institutional knowledge and the background of what happened, where we are now, where we intend to go. That will somehow, in one way or another, close the gap of the unavailability of healthcare workers,” she added.

She also said that among factors that discourage healthcare professionals to be deployed in farthest municipalities are unavailability of universities wherein the siblings of the health professional can study as well as problems on peace.

She also said that it is important that economic conditions in the area are well-conducive for the survival of the family of healthcare professionals in order to encourage them to stay there.

“Maski merong mga lugar na nilagyan natin ng hospitals – nilagyan natin ng equipment, ang daming inilagay doon – hindi nagtatagal ang doctor, hindi nagtatagal ang nurse because of the problem in the peace process. So, sabay-sabay ‘yan, dapat infrastructure, katahimikan, peace process – nandoroon din iyung access to many areas. Kasi para mag-survive ang medical healthcare workers natin doon, dapat may local economy na tumatakbo doon, may paaralan ka, meron kang kapamilya, trabaho at pagkakakitaan doon,” she added.

The Health Chief also said that the best structures and equipment will be futile if service delivery network will be incomplete and if there are no competent health professionals that can provide compassionate care to the people.

In line with that, the DOH Chief said that she is hopeful that the next administration will actually enhance further some programs that they have started in order to close the remaining health gaps and truly achieve the dream for universal healthcare for all Filipinos.

“However, a single doctor, midwife or nurse working in an isolated community can make a difference with advancement of information technologies and functional referral network. What is important is that patients are seen by health professionals,” she stressed.

Leilani Junio

Philippines - Questions hover over Asia’s first dengue vaccination program in Philippines

Asia’s first dengue vaccine has been distributed in a mass school-based immunization program in the Philippines. So far, the program appears to be running without difficulties, but some health professionals are concerned that the vaccine was released before researchers could ensure its long-term safety.

From the beginning, the vaccine’s French manufacturer Sanofi Pasteur has been concerned about a potential problem with the vaccine — that while it could help prevent dengue initially, it could later increase the severity of the disease, according to Dr. Antonio Dans, a professor at the University of the Philippines College of Medicine.

“The real dengue we are afraid of is severe dengue, not the mild ones,” Dans said in a statement. “If a vaccine prevents mild disease but causes severe dengue, we shouldn’t be using it at all.”

This possibility is being monitored by the vaccine’s developer, Dans said in a news release; and since the phenomenon may happen a full three years after immunization occurs, it will take some time to study the vaccine’s long term effects.

However, as the virus infects as many as 400 million people annually, the vaccine for dengue has been awaited with increasing impatience. In an effort to stem the spread of the virus in regions heavily burdened by the disease, the WHO recommended that the drug be introduced in dengue-endemic sites while awaiting prequalification. According to the organization, the WHO is now waiting on an application from the vaccine’s manufacturer.

This raised additional concern from some medical professionals, according to Philippine media network GMA, who say the immunization program should not have preceded the prequalification process, especially considering such limited knowledge of the vaccine’s long-term side effects.

The vaccine, Dengvaxia, has also been registered in Mexico, Brazil and El Salvador. Now, the Philippines — which in 2015 saw an almost 60 percent increase in dengue cases from the year prior — has become the first to make the vaccine commercially available.

The company said the Dengvaxia vaccine, which took 20 years and $1.8 billion to develop, should prevent 80 percent of dengue-related hospitalizations and up to 93 percent of cases of severe hemorrhagic dengue fever. The vaccine is designed for people ages 9 to 45, and is administered in three separate doses over a six-month period.

Since the start of the immunization program last month, Dengvaxia has been administered to more than 200,000 grade-school students in the capital city of Manila. Of 17,000 people who were injected with the vaccine in the Philippines in February as part of the clinical study, just 27 developed side effects, Health Undersecretary Vicente Belizario told reporters.

According to Health Minister Janette Garin, the $103 million program aims to administer the first dose of the vaccine to 1 million children by June.

The history of developing a vaccine for dengue has been wrought with challenges. An effective vaccine must protect against four closely related viruses that can cause the disease, and researchers have had limited understanding of how the virus affects the immune system. Among other barriers making vaccine development more difficult, there are no easily measurable sign (such as antibodies) that a person is immune to the disease.

The WHO estimates that dengue fever, the world’s most common mosquito-borne virus, infects an estimated 390 million people around the world each year. So far this year, more than 33,000 dengue cases have been recorded in the Philippines alone.

Lisa Nikolau

Philippines - Can blueberry fight breast cancer?

Blueberry consumption may reduce the risk of having breast cancer, according to a new research conducted in New Zealand.

Dr. Janyawat Vuthijumnonk, who recently finished Doctor of Philosophy in Manawatū, said that the biological properties of blueberries, like anthocyanins, help decrease the chance of developing breast cancer.

“Blueberries contain phytochemicals called anthocyanins, which may be responsible for the health benefits of blueberries,” she said. “They reduce free radicals in our system, decrease new blood vessel formation, and increase the number of beneficial bacteria – all elements which help in the fight against breast cancer,” Dr. Vuthijumnonk added.

In the study done in Massey University, they detected a 50-percent lower incidence rate of mammary tumors after including blueberries, which were given either in liquid form or as a pomace (fiber included) supplemented diet form,  to the animals’ diet.

“Interestingly, tumors found in animals that received blueberries with their fiber included [pomace form], were smaller and less aggressive than in animals without blueberry intervention or in animals that received blueberry juice. We also found circulating estrogen – the steroid hormone which plays a key role in breast cancer promotion – was lower in animals that consumed the blueberry pomace supplemented diet. This shows that not only phytochemicals in blueberries play a key role for their health benefits, but the fibre in the fruits was also shown to play an important part,” the 35-year-old doctor further explained.

Dr Vuthijumnonk stressed that it is important to remember that the research was done in an animal trial and the response to environment stress of each animal differ.

“Therefore, we can’t say eating blueberries will prevent breast cancer in humans. But we are able to say blueberry consumption may lower the risk of developing breast cancer at the population level,” the doctor who hails from Thailand clarified.

The breast cancer (women only) was the second most common cancer in the world with about 1.7 million new cases in 2012.

In the Philippines, World Health Organization or WHO’s data show that in 2014, the country reached 7,730 or 1.48% of total deaths due to breast cancer. The age adjusted Death Rate is 22.01 per 100,000 of population which places the Philippines #30 in the world.

The data from the World Center Research Fund International’s website explains that in 2012, there were 14.1 million cases of cancer around the world.

Michael Andrea M. Tangan