Weekly Asian Medical News Bulletin – 26 May 2023

Covid-19 cases in Thailand

Medical Channel Asia presents the weekly Asian medical news bulletin, bringing you essential healthcare news from across the region.

This week’s bulletin will focus on Covid-19 cases and other health conditions.


Thailand’s Covid-19 situation escalates as fatalities nearly double from the previous week, with average daily hospitalisation cases rising to 376. This surge includes 401 pneumonia cases and 226 cases needing respiratory support, as reported by Dr Thira Woratanarat from Chulalongkorn University Faculty of Medicine.


Seven more cases of the COVID-19 Omicron subvariant XBB.1.16, also known as “Arcturus,” have been reported in the Philippines. This takes the total number to 11 across different regions. The Department of Health suspects local transmission of Arcturus, given that no links exist between the recent cases. Despite the rising numbers, the department reassures the public that adherence to health protocols and vaccination will mitigate risks.


Hand, foot, and mouth disease (HFMD) cases in Malaysia surpassed the national alert level of 1,150 per week during the Epidemiological Week 19, running from May 7 to 13. Despite the total number of cases (9,822) being lower than the same period in 2022, there has been an increase since Epidemiological Week 18. The disease is primarily caused by Coxsackie A6 (CA6) and Coxsackie A16 (CA16). It predominantly affects children aged six and below. It often spreads in institutions like kindergartens, nurseries, and places where children gather, with 273 clusters reported in 2023. In response, the Ministry of Health urges public adherence to preventive measures. They include proper hand hygiene, cleanliness in public spaces, and screening for HFMD signs in children.


Vietnam is among the top 15 countries with the highest number of adult male smokers, largely due to easy access to cigarettes and the growing use of e-cigarettes. The smoking rate among Vietnamese men dropped from 45.3% in 2015 to 42.3% but remained higher than the 39% target in the National Strategy on Tobacco Control. Despite reducing smokers by 0.8% from 2015 to 2022, preventing 280,000 premature deaths and saving about $54.4 million annually, Vietnam ranks third in Southeast Asia for the highest smoking rates. The country now grapples with increasing e-cigarette use among teens, while almost 34.5 million non-smokers are exposed to second-hand smoke. Experts urge stronger enforcement of tobacco-related laws and higher taxes, alongside banning new-generation tobacco products to curb this public health issue.


A revolutionary medical device from NUS that boosts muscle strength and mobility in the elderly is proceeding to clinical trials. The Bixeps device, a medical invention by researchers at the National University of Singapore (NUS), uses magnetic pulses to strengthen muscles without the need for exercise, proving particularly beneficial for the elderly. Over three months, users spend 10-minute sessions with the device weekly. The trials demonstrated increased muscle strength, reduced frailty, and enhanced mobility in over 70% of participants. Moreover, these sessions increased the participants’ skeletal muscle mass by an average of 1.2% and decreased their total body and visceral fat by about 4%. It is now undergoing clinical trials at Singapore General Hospital (SGH).


The proposed Omnibus Health Bill in Indonesia is set to include provisions for abortion for victims of sexual violence and human trafficking. Additionally, it is also expanding the current legal limit for abortion from six to fourteen weeks of gestation. This new legislation tackles reproductive health in terms of pregnancy age. Also, it focuses on abortion access for certain vulnerable groups. Women’s health advocacy groups, such as IPAS Indonesia Foundation, have applauded the proposed changes. However, they have also pointed out the need for updated abortion methods and clear regulations on competent health officers providing these services. This bill aims to provide a more comprehensive approach to reproductive health and rights.

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