Media Blitz for Lupus

May was Lupus Awareness Month. This is to increase public knowledge of lupus and devastating this condition can be. It affects predominantly young females, a period where life is just beginning, whether it is their careers or their family. It is a vulnerable period for many, leading to depression and withdrawal from society. Some leave not only physical disfigurement but mental and emotional scars as well.

Vbuzz was an English variety show on Astro Vinmeen HD. Being on TV always adds additional stress when you have to look physically your best and be aware of all your irritating mannerisms when speaking. The hosts and producers were very reassuring. Many thanks to Loh Yu Mi for taking the pictures.

This was followed a few days later on BFM 89.9, the business channel. The interview was done by Meera Sivasothy. The message was again lupus and what the Malaysia SLE Association does for lupus patients.

Digital Healthcare Asia


This is my second year in presenting at this business meeting highlighting the work done in the digital healthcare space.

My role was to bring the audience back to the humanity of medicine. With the excitement of digitisation in healthcare we often forget that the patient doctor relationship is sacred and personal to the patient especially. Until we reach the level of sophistication in AI, humans will be at the fore front of this encounter.

Aiding this encounter is important as we push for digitisation to ensure that the doctor patient communication is unhindered by the computerisation within the consultation room. The workload and the information that a doctor needs to process has exponentially increased. This often drowns out the voice of the patient as the doctor grapples with the myriad of tasks that is now expected of him/ her.

Digital technology is here to stay and there is certainly no turning back. Understanding its potential and executing it perfectly to highlight its strengths is the key message. From connectedness by remote monitoring to targeted patient education, the power of the current digital world is undeniable.

I will be presenting on this topic again at the upcoming Association of Private Hospitals Malaysia conference this end of July. Facebook link to the conference

Exam stress

No. This time it’s not me. However the stress is no less than if it was mine. It’s beyond my control. It’s only just a small mathematics test. I’m beginning to wonder how it would be if it was a much bigger or higher stake examination.

Drug pricing

An article I wrote last year worth revisiting

Out of Reach

JULY 14, 2016 ESSENZE AUSTRALIA
by Dr Benjamin Cheah Tien Eang, Consultant Physician & Rheumatologist

The saga involving Martin Skreli unearthed some dark truths about the pharmaceutical industry. Skreli, as the then CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, increased the price of an existing antiparasitic medication by 5,556% and there was nothing anybody could do about it but only to hate him.

However, it did expose the lack of drug pricing regulations in the pharmaceutical industry. Till today, no one has any idea how drug prices are decided upon. Justifications for pricing a medication more steeply ranges from the high cost of research to manufacturing. Hence, many newer treatments are placed out of reach for the average Joe without an insurance plan.

Science and technology has allowed us to now develop targeted treatments for many diseases. Picking off a sole target responsible for the causation of disease, can not only provide superior results versus conventional treatments, but with less side effects. Unfortunately many of these ‘smarter’ drugs are expensive and hence unavailable in many parts of the world.

For developing countries, the average household income is hardly sufficient to survive the rising cost of living. The price of some medications can be more than the monthly income of most households. Pricing based on the gross domestic product (GDP) or the gross national income (GNI) of a country is hardly a consolation as it is not reflective of the average disposable income of a family. Governments struggle to cope with escalating drug prices as it creates a significant constraint on their budgets.

Keeping innovative and superior treatments out of reach to those that need them the most is a betrayal to Mankind. As profits for pharmaceutical companies sore annually, patients are left poorer and in dire straits. Something must be done to justify drug prices in a more transparent manner. It can literally be a matter of life and death.

In rheumatoid arthritis for example, a new class of medications called “biologics” has revolutionised the treatment of this once debilitating disease. Preventing irreversible joint damage and relieving debilitating pain is now an achievable dream for these patients. Or so we may think.

Unfortunately, “biologics” are priced so steeply that it keeps it out of the hands of the majority of patients. Moreover, they are needed on a long term basis. Imagine spending all your savings on a medication that is suppose to make one’s life better. As patients reach deep into their pockets to solve their physical pain, another equally paralysing menace emerges. I call it the ‘financial pain’. Make no mistake of its equally destructive force.

So we spend so much money thinking that we are making a difference to the lives of patients, only to realise all we did was to shift the dust.

This conundrum raises the question of what constitutes an advancement in Medicine. A true advancement is when we can develop an innovative treatment that can be enjoyed by all of Mankind. It is not to enrich certain quarters but is to be shared by all that inhabit this little planet.

Perhaps it is wishful thinking, but there is little harm in dreaming.