The rise in the number of non-communicable disease (NCD) cases in Malaysia can be partially explained by Malaysia’s trade policy, suggested the Khazanah Research Institute (KRI).

KRI director of research, Junaidi Mansor opined that Malaysians could lead a healthy lifestyle if the government stepped in to implement a balanced trade policy towards NCD contributors.

Datuk Charon Mokhzani, KRI Managing Director (middle) at the launch of the ‘Why Trade Matters’ book, together with Prof Dr Noorsaadah Abd Rahman, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation) at University of Malaya (right), on 8 November 2017. Photo credit: Choo Choy May/Malay Mail Online
Datuk Charon Mokhzani, KRI Managing Director (middle) at the launch of the ‘Why Trade Matters’ book, together with Prof Dr Noorsaadah Abd Rahman, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation) at University of Malaya (right), on 8 November 2017. Photo credit: Choo Choy May/Malay Mail Online

This includes policy formulation which provides health incentives; control of promotional and market rules; and direct legislation. Junaidi was speaking at the launch of KRI’s book titled “Why Trade Matters: Trade Issues in Non-Communicable Diseases, Essential Medicines and Education” at University of Malaya.

“Apart from promoting healthy lifestyles and practices, trade policies are able to curb smoking, reduce alcohol consumption and check an unbalanced diet. For example, this includes the implementation of taxes, as well as prohibiting or limiting the advertisements of alcohol and tobacco products in Malaysia,” he highlighted.

One way forward: Tackling NCDs “together”

Recently, at the 12th Ministry of Health (MOH) and Academy of Medicine Malaysia (AMM)’s Scientific Meeting, Professor Dr Lekhraj Rampal, Vice President, College of Public Health Medicine at AMM, questioned whether the approach to tackling NCDs is right.

“Are our strategies right? Are we working together? If we are, there won’t be a problem,” he remarked exasperatedly.

Professor Dr Lekhraj Rampal, Vice President of the College of Public Health Medicine at AMM, urges healthcare professionals to advocate for policies that would tackle NCDs.
Professor Dr Lekhraj Rampal, Vice President of the College of Public Health Medicine at AMM, urges healthcare professionals to advocate for policies that would tackle NCDs.

Citing the vaping issue as an example, Professor Rampal explains that while the Ministry of Health (MOH) intends on banning vaping, the vaping industry had the support of other ministries.

He further urged healthcare professionals to advocate for various issues including the change of legal age for the purchase of tobacco and the ban on alcohol advertisements.

Questioning the ethicality of tobacco trade policies

At the same conference, Dr Molly Cheah, President, Malaysian Council for Tobacco Control (MCTC), questioned both global and Malaysia’s trade policies on tobacco.

“Ethically, is it correct, to allow the producers (of tobacco) to do something so dangerous and addictive, to be given so much privilege?” she questioned.

She cited a recent report on the US government taking USD280 billion worth of legal action against prominent tobacco companies for racketeering.

“How is it then, that this same industry deserves the right and liberty to propagate the deadly product to our people and our children – in the name of free market – when it endures intense restriction in its country of origin?” she asked rhetorically.

Dr Molly Cheah emphasises that tobacco should not be treated as a normal product in trade policies.
Dr Molly Cheah emphasises that tobacco should not be treated as a normal product in trade policies.

Dr Cheah continued, stating that the tobacco industry has regularly supported trade agreements that worked in their favour – and have also used other trade agreements to undermine regulations in Malaysia, amongst other countries.

“Studies have shown that the impact of trade liberalisation is associated with increased tobacco consumption, especially in low and middle-income countries with market penetration,” she added.

“Tobacco should not be treated as a normal product. It should not be given incentives, and it should not be protected,” emphasised Dr Cheah.

She then concluded that with tobacco as an example, strategies to tackle NCDs should not only be targeted at the medical and health domain – rather, in the trade domain (particularly), as well.

Why trade matters? A need to seek balance with government on trade policies

Junaidi echoed Dr Cheah’s concerns, stating that existing trade agreements between Malaysia and other countries could also impact the accessibility and capability of purchasing essential medicines.

“The production of medical items has become more complex as it relates to intellectual property rights (IPRs) which are the core business of pharmaceutical companies.

“Therefore, Malaysia cannot simply market the production of medical items from research and development of any pharmaceutical company as each product has its own IPR,” he highlighted.

Datuk Charon Mokhzani (right) and Junaidi Mansor, KRI Director of Research (left), hope to educate Malaysians on international trade policies as it affects their daily lives. Photo credit: Nur Adibah Ahmad Izam/NSTP`
Datuk Charon Mokhzani (right) and Junaidi Mansor, KRI Director of Research (left), hope to educate Malaysians on international trade policies as it affects their daily lives. Photo credit: Nur Adibah Ahmad Izam/NSTP`

As such, Managing Director of KRI, Datuk Charon Mokhzani has urged all Malaysians to be “knowledgeable about international trade” as it affects their daily lives, including access to essential medicines and food, which can subsequently reduce the rate of lifestyle diseases.

“International trade limits the ability of countries to regulate its own people,” he concluded.

Junaidi echoed in agreement, stating that trade policies must therefore find a balance between the interests of the government, foreign companies, and the people. MIMS

Read more:
Food waste: Its far-reaching impacts on global public health
How the tobacco industry tries to undermine tobacco control polices
Open access to vape products in Malaysia can reduce smoking rates, says think tank

Sources:
http://www.theedgemarkets.com/article/malaysia-faces-challenges-negotiating-international-trade-pacts-says-khazanah-research
http://www.themalaymailonline.com/malaysia/article/new-data-driven-book-shows-malaysians-how-trade-affects-their-health-medica#8RdQrf9Fj7f1mJlb.97
https://www.nst.com.my/news/nation/2017/11/300941/trade-policies-impact-number-issues-including-rise-non-communicable