Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Legends at MAJ Golden Jubilee

Dr. Ho Ping Kong is co-founder of the Toronto General and Western Hospital’s Centre for Excellence in Education and Practice. He was honoured for his service earlier this month. (Charla Jones/The Globe and Mail)
Prof Herbert Ho Ping Kong - photo from the Globe & Mail

The Medical Association of Jamaica celebrated their Golden Jubilee with a rich weeklong programme including events addressed by two legends: Jamaican-Canadian Professor Herbert Ho Ping Kong and UWI Chancellor, Professor Sir George Alleyne.

The great ‘HPK’ described by his home country’s Globe & Mail as “As brilliant as TV's ‘House’…but nicer” is author of “The Art of Medicine”, now required reading at many medical schools. Celebrating his 50th year as a doctor, the UWI graduate gave thanks for the guidance of his own professors, Eric Cruikshank, Ronnie Irvine, Rolf Richards, Don Christian, Knox Hagley, Orrin Barrow and Sir Harry Annamunthodo.

He welcomed the advances in his field, but urged doctors to “practice the art of medicine”.    This, he describes as “using your God-given faculties not just to see, feel and hear,” but practise “being compassionate, being kind.”  He challenged them to “think outside the box’ if there appears to be no cure. He recounted the well nigh impossible condition of a 23-year-old man whose life he was able to save.  “Thank you for allowing me to live to see my grandchild,” the man wrote to him 45 years later.

Prof Sir George Alleyne

UWI Chancellor, Professor Sir George Alleyne, urged the MAJ to be strong advocates to combat non-communicable diseases, now widely referred to as NCDs – these are cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and chronic respiratory disease.  “There are obviously other chronic non-communicable diseases, but these four are responsible for 82% of all NCD deaths,” noted Professor Alleyne. “When I refer to the dominant risk factors for NCDs, I include tobacco use, the harmful use of alcohol, physical inactivity and improper diet.”

Professor Alleyne observed, “According to WHO, there were 15.4 thousand deaths from NCDs in Jamaica in 2012 and these accounted for 75% of all deaths, with cardiovascular disease being responsible for 37%. NCDs are the leading cause of mortality and morbidity in Jamaica and represent an enormous economic burden.”

Further, Professor Alleyne said that many of these deaths had been unnecessarily painful. “Data from the Pain and Policies Study Group of the University of Wisconsin show that per capita consumption of that drug [morphine] in Jamaica in 2012 was 1.93 mg as compared to the average for the Region of the Americas of 30.6 mg per person,” he said. “This means that there must be large numbers of Jamaicans who die with pain that could be relieved by oral morphine which costs pennies.”

He called on doctors to be advocates for their people, quoting Rudolf Virchow, whom he said was “one of the greatest medical activists of all time who just over 150 years ago laid a special charge on our profession”: “Doctors are the natural advocates of the poor, and social problems are largely within their jurisdiction."
This quote reminded me of the initiative of Dr Shane Alexis, the current MAJ President, who led a team to help in rescue operations two days after the Haiti earthquake, and the important work also of his predecessors. 

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