A FEW weeks ago, I received a shocking call from my sister. A nephew had collapsed and died. He was only 37. It was unexpected. The diagnosis was hypertension. But it made no sense, my nephew led an active lifestyle.
Hypertension does not choose its victims. Increasingly, many under 40 had died because of it. It is known as the silent killer.
There have been many studies, but the results have not been conclusive, only inferences to the cause.
Now, a comprehensive population study is under way to get a better understanding of the root cause. It is a collaboration between Malaysia, the United Kingdom and the Philippines. It will span a few years, collecting population data on lifestyle parameters.
In Malaysia, the vice-chancellor of UCSI University leads the project, bringing collaborative partners from Universiti Putra Malaysia and Universiti Teknologi Mara. Funded by the Malaysia-UK joint research fund, named the Ungku Omar/Newton fund, the study hopes to get more conclusive findings on how to tame hypertension.
There is no doubt the findings will be beneficial. The endgame is to improve understanding of the cause of the rise in non-communicable diseases like hypertension. We should give priority to such high-impact research.
Of late, there have been far too many low impact researches. I have been following the research trend in the country. Yes, we have witnessed an impressive rise in the number of research publications, mostly driven by the obsession with ranking. But the data shows a majority of them have low citation index, confirming their low impact. It is unfortunate that such ranking-motivated researches are rampant.
There was a High-Impact Research Programme at Universiti Malaya. This, unfortunately, met an early demise.
The problem is with research planning. We do not plan for the long term. We lack the long staying power. No wonder we are not among top achievers in research. It is time we rethink our strategy on research planning.
The tri-country study on hypertension, branded RESPOND, has run for more than a year. I had the opportunity to join the research group in their data collection. In Malaysia, they picked four states for the study — Penang, Selangor, Kelantan and Johor.
In each state, they interviewed two sets of population — people from rural and urban areas. Some initial results were shocking — many people are either unaware they have hypertension or give serious attention to therapeutic prescriptions. They also do not strictly follow the medication regime advised by doctors.
Scientists are looking at other behavioural data to link to such practices. Comparisons will be made between rural and urban data, as well as between the three participating countries.
It is evident through past studies that clinical drug trials alone will not provide answers to many of our medical problems. Different people respond differently to drugs. This has been explained as the influence of each individual’s genetic make-up on the efficacy of drugs.
A population study like RESPOND will hopefully provide more realistic conclusions to the remedy.
PROFESSOR DATUK DR AHMAD IBRAHIM
Fellow, Academy of Sciences, UCSI University