Rob Verkerk PhD, founder, executive and scientific director, and Meleni Aldridge, executive coordinator, have just returned today from taking part in the Inaugural International Integrative Medicine Conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, this past weekend 11-12th February, 2018. Held at The Majestic Hotel in Kuala Lumpur, it was testimony to Dr Janethy Balakrishnan Bokstrom’s vision, passion and dedicated team that so many countries were represented across the delegates and speakers and that the conference was such a huge success. Hosted and organised by the Association of Integrative Medicine Malaysia (AIMM), for which Dr Janethy is president and her husband, Nils Bokstrom’s company, Integrative Medicine Events, the conference exceeded many's expectations. The touch paper has been lit on the new integrative medicine movement in South East Asia.

View the full scientific programme and speaker bios.

Sustainable healthcare

Like all industrialised and rapidly developing countries, Malaysia is experiencing a spiralling rise in metabolic diseases and heart disease. As the World Health Organization has conceded, this burden is largely preventable. What was somewhat unexpected was discovering that the Malaysian government is wholeheartedly behind the CAM/integrative medicine movement. Judging by the sentiments expressed by a senior representative of the Malaysian government, it appears the Malaysian government is deeply aware that significant healthcare reform is required to deal with the spiralling burden of chronic, metabolic diseases. As importantly, it appears that Malaysia is ready to seriously consider integrative medicine as a key candidate approach in its effort to tackle the issue given ample recognition that this approach pays more than lip service to preventive medicine and guided self-care based around the principles of natural health.

Dato Seri Dr Jeyaindran Tan Sri Sinnadurai, the Deputy Director General of the Ministry of Health addressed the delegates after Dr Rob Verkerk’s keynote presentation on healthcare sustainability. In his address, Dr Jeyaindran outlined some of the difficulties facing conventional medics who want to embrace integrative medicine. One specific challenge related to the passage of Malaysia's own Traditional and Complementary Medicine Act 2016 that prevents medical doctors practicing both types of medicine from the same clinic. A separate address is required for each type of medical approach, even if the clinics are next door to each other or on a different level of the same building. Dr Jeyaindran made clear his personal view that traditional, complementary and integrative practitioners are not given sufficient respect or recognition in the present system, that they must be brought in from the fringes given the vast body of evidence supporting their practice. Dato Seri Dr Jeyaindran also expressed the view that allopathic medicine does not have all the answers, and for many chronic diseases there may be stronger justification for a CAM or integrative approach. Encouragingly, he demonstrated his commitment to doing all he could to "work around" the law that otherwise creates an unnecessary barrier to the practice of integrative medicine by medical doctors in Malaysia.

Dr Janethy Balakrishnan Bokstrom thanking Data Seri Dr Jeyaindran Tan Sri Sinnadurai, the deputy Director General of the Ministry of Health for his presentation.

Applying the sustainability principle to healthcare

There are political, economic, structural, organisational, educational, cultural and other reasons why healthcare systems are failing to do what they were intended to do. To make them compatible with the mix of diseases and disorders we face in modern societies – radical reform and restructuring is required. This won’t come from the top – it is our passionate belief at the ANH that this must be driven from the bottom up. This also is the belief of many others in the integrative, nutritional, functional and lifestyle medicine (INFLiM) space, including Dr Janethy Balakrishnan, president of AIMM and co-organiser of the ground-breaking conference.

This was the central theme of the keynote address, entitled Ten Hallmarks of a Sustainable Healthcare System, by Dr Rob Verkerk. Rob used the opportunity to showcase for the first time some of the concepts that are integral to the position paper ANH-Intl is presently developing on sustainable healthcare.

These approaches are intended to bring transformation to three major areas:

1. Transforming the individual’s underlying terrain – this about using a 12-step, science-based approach that takes key elements from nutritional, environmental, lifestyle and functional medicine and integrates them into an individual-centred (or ‘patient-centred’) approach.

2. Transforming the sustainability of the healthcare system – here we identify 10 components that we consider essential if healthcare systems are to become sustainable and relevant to the 21st century disease burden.

3. Transforming the locus of healthcare delivery. The combined approach fundamentally changes the main locus of delivered healthcare from the latter stages of an individual’s life to an earlier stage, so that an individual’s health trajectory can be altered and chronic diseases can be prevented before they manifest and contribute unnecessarily to the overall disease burden.

Rob Verkerk PhD giving the keynote lecture at the Inaugural Integrative Medicine Conference in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday 11th February 2018.

Addressing chronic and metabolic diseases

Rob’s second presentation on Sunday was on the need for keto-adaptation as the prime physiological requirement to offset the development of metabolic diseases. This has been a major focus of ANH-Intl’s work for the last few years. While it is critical that mainstream doctors understand the mechanisms and practical implementation of the approach, it is ANH-Intl’s view that participation with health coaches trained and experienced in the protocols is one of the best ways of hand-holding individual’s through the process.

In this regard, we were very excited to meet Alex Lim, who has given up his IT company and started coaching others after reversing his own type 2 diabetes which had been diagnosed 8 years earlier. In the process, Alex has lost 35 kg with 15cm off his waist and is still getting slimmer and stronger. Although self-taught because health-coaching doesn’t really exist in Malaysia yet, he’s well researched, extremely knowledgeable and deeply passionate about his mission. Much of his work to date has been for free because he’s determined to help the people who need it.

Alex Lim and Rob Verkerk PhD at the conference

Meleni's presentations before lunch introduced the concept of 'food as medicine'. Having created the Vital Gourmet Roadmap through the menu on both days, she shared key take homes in her presentations about how to use food as information sources to inform health, rather than to create metabolic disturbance. Asians, but especially Malaysians love their food! Meleni demonstrated how delegates could use their Vital Gourmet hand out to chart an individualised route through the menu, whatever their dietary preference, whilst allaying their fears of fat and explaining why sugar is so dangerous. For many delegates it was their first immersion into the use of nutrition as a key component of lifestyle medicine.

Torchbearers of a new movement

South East Asia is ripe for healthcare change and clearly ready to embrace the concept of sustainable and integrative medicine. Doctors like Dr Janethy Balakrishnan and the AIMM team, her biologist/nutritionist husband Nils Bokstrom, Dr Aminah Kassim and Dr Choy Sook Kuen are just a few of the leading Malaysian-based torchbearers we made contact with. Interestingly, Dr Choy had already found the ANH-Intl Food4Health campaign online and integrated them into the two Montessori schools she works with.

Many of the doctors attending the conference are eager and willing to change the way they practice, others were curious, perhaps not so definite about their future career direction, but they still attended and want to be part of future AIMM events. It’s a powerfully positive start. Witnessing the birth of something, be it a life, a project or a movement is a heartening and enriching process. But, taking an active role in such a birth is life-changing. We’ll keep you posted on developments of which we are sure there will be many.


Just received today: Dr Choy's sons Aaron and Joshua thanking ANH for the posters for the Montessori School, Treetop House@Eduvillage.

The Community Centre Gallery

Rob and Meleni teamed up with Alex on the way to the airport on Tuesday at Dr Aminah Kassim’s NGO community health project. This is a health outreach project with a difference — it shares the same location as Madam Zaiton Abd Mayas’ incredible Seri Talam Cat Café. Between their two outreach projects they rescue cats and people, whilst creating one large, welcoming, community family in the process. The conference has connected Dr Aminah to Rob and Meleni, Rob and Meleni to Alex and now they've connected Alex to Dr Aminah. The power of networking in action! ANH will continue to support their combined outreach from Europe.


The Conference Gallery