The theme for “Minggu Sains Negara” 2021 is Science for Health”. “Minggu Sains Negara” is an annual event organized by Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI) to raise public awareness on science. In conjunction with this event, we bring to you the various STEM fields involved in medicine and healthcare, why science literacy is important to maintain good health and career opportunities in healthcare industry.
What are the sciences in medicine and healthcare? The pandemic is adding more medical and science vocabulary in our daily conversation. It is also sending a strong message that science knowledge or literacy among the general public is so important to make the right decisions about our health. The infodemic, fake news and pseudoscience are all so damaging. We need some basic knowledge on science to be able to filter through all the mountains of information.
Many do not understand the Covid-19 virus, how the virus spreads the disease, mutate and respond to vaccines. Lack of science knowledge is also a reason for vaccine hesitancy. This is causing huge delay in getting enough people to be vaccinated to create herd immunity around the globe.
The good thing brought by the pandemic is introducing science and scientists to the public. Today mRNA, viral vector, mutation, spike protein and antigen are all common words. Yet, more basic science knowledge is needed to increase public awareness and compliance to curb the spread of the virus.
Understanding Covid-19 and taking the right measures is not the only problem. According to the World Population Review 2019, Malaysia has the highest prevalence of obesity among adults in South-east Asia at 15.6 per cent. Why is our knowledge on nutrition and balanced diet very low? Low awareness on dental health is another problem. Many only know cavities are caused by sugar. How many are aware that acid is a major culprit and this includes fruit juices which we think is healthy. Carbonated drinks are double whammy as there are sweet as well as acidic.
Let us now look at major science fields that play critical role in medicine and healthcare. We all know biology is the core subject related to healthcare and medical. Anatomy, microbiology, biochemistry and genetics are all biology. Majority STEM students are keen to become doctors but we need highly skilled engineer, chemists, mathematicians, statisticians, biologists and software engineers to create a robust healthcare system.
Let us have a look at physics and engineering. Walk into any hospitals and look around. Modern medicine and healthcare rely heavily on engineering to deliver improved prevention, diagnosis and treatment of illness. The imaging machines like ultrasound and X-rays provide doctors images of our anatomy and help them to diagnose diseases. Many support systems such as ventilators, dialysis and feeding tubes are essential when patients are unable to perform basic functions themselves. Then there are artificial limbs and implants. Dental chair is a great example too.
Let us now look at information technology and computer systems. Medical robots are now performing surgeries. Surgeons insert tiny video camera into patients’ organ that allows them to see the inside the organ on computer screen. This not only allows fewer mistakes but also makes the surgery less invasive as surgeons do not have to make large cut that is 6-12 inches long. This takes a long time to heal and also leaves huge scars. There are many healthcare IT solutions in hospitals designed and implemented by software engineers.
IT allowed Covid-19 vaccines to be developed in neck breaking speed. The genes of the virus was quickly sequenced using automated DNA sequencing machines and special software analysed them to identify the best gene for the vaccine.
How about chemistry? Most of the medicines that used as pharmaceutical drugs are synthetised using chemistry knowledge. The chemical structures are studied, modified and formulated and this involves a lot of chemistry.
Mathematics? Yes, the right dosage and prescription are all about mathematics. Have you heard the word epidemiology? That is a popular word during the pandemic. Epidemiology is a study of how diseases spread, their pattern, causes and risk factors in a population. There is a lot of mathematics in determining all these. Statistics is so important in the development of vaccines and any drugs. Clinical trials are all concluded based on statistics. How the patients respond to a new drug is analysed using statistical models.
It is very important to realise that a healthy nation depends so much on science and STEM talent. A healthy nation will be more productive and we can reduce unnecessary healthcare budget. Science literacy will lead to preventive healthcare where illness can be prevented and the ageing population could lead quality lifestyle. We need many healthcare professionals in various STEM fields. The list can be long but here are some: doctors and nurses, pharmacists, pharmaceutical engineers, software engineers, biotechnologists, chemists, biomedical engineers, molecular biologists, data scientists, and mathematicians and statisticians.