The Malaysian Thoracic Society and Respiratory Medicine in Malaysia


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Respiratory medicine covers a wide variety of very common diseases, such as bronchial asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), tuberculosis (TB), respiratory tract infections (including community acquired pneumonia and hospital-acquired pneumonia), lung cancer, sleep apnoea syndrome, interstitial lung disease, ARDS, pulmonary embolism, etc.

In Malaysia, the specialty of respiratory medicine has slowly evolved over the last few decades. It was only some 30 to 40 years ago that the few chest physicians in the country assisted by general physicians were mainly concerned with the care of patients with TB which was one of the leading causes of death in the country. With the decline of the TB problem, other respiratory diseases become more important. Respiratory care services have now expanded to include care for patients with asthma, COPD, pneumonia, lung cancer, sleep apnoea syndrome, etc. Respiratory diseases are responsible for a high percentage of general practice consultations, emergency department attendances and hospital admissions, and gaining greater importance as a cause of morbidity. From the handful of pioneer chest physicians in the country several decades ago, there are now more specialists in the field of respiratory medicine who are either working in public institutions or in private practice. However, the number of respiratory physicians is still far from adequate and a large proportion of patients with respiratory diseases are still being managed by general practitioners and general physicians.

With further progress and development in the country, the provision and access to respiratory care services, in both the public and private sectors, should improve. Raising the standards and improving the quality of care for respiratory diseases should also be the agenda of all parties concerned. Opportunities for respiratory medicine training in the country are improving with the increasing number of both respiratory medicine consultants and accredited training centres. Research and publication output in respiratory medicine is still low in Malaysia but the situation is gradually improving.
MTS has played a very important role in the field of respiratory medicine in Malaysia. Apart from organising annual scientific congresses and regular continuing medical education (CME) activities as well as seminars and workshops on respiratory medicine, MTS had also organised the 8th Congress of the Asian Pacific Society of Respirology which was held from 1-4 December 2003 at the Sunway Lagoon Resort Hotel in Petaling Jaya (supported by the American Thoracic Society and the European Respiratory Society), and the 1st Asia Pacific Region Conference of the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease which was held from 2-5 August 2007 at the Shangri-La Hotel in Kuala Lumpur in collaboration with the Malaysian Association for the Prevention of Tuberculosis. The MTS co-hosted the 2014 IASLC Asia Pacific Lung Cancer Conference which was held from 6 – 8 November 2014 in Shangri-La Hotel, Kuala Lumpur. The society also successfully hosted the 20th Congress of the Asian Pacific Society of Respirology 2015 which was held from 3 - 6 December 2015 at Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre - with 1882 delegates, this was the largest respiratory conference ever held in the country.

The MTS first developed and published a set of clinical practice guidelines (CPG) on the management of adult asthma in 1996 and had organised many continuing medical education activities in almost all the states of Malaysia to disseminate the use of the guidelines. The CPG was subsequently updated and the updated CPG was published in 2002. Several asthma camps were organised for people with asthma and were very well received by the public. The first camp was organised in Port Dickson with almost 150 participants. MTS played a very important role in initiating the formation of the Asthma Club for children with asthma and the adult Asthma Association of Kuala Lumpur. With the formation of these associations, MTS is able to extend its assistance in educating the public and asthma sufferers.

COPD management guidelines were developed and published by MTS in 1998. Workshops for doctors were organized in various regions of Malaysia to disseminate the guidelines among doctors working in the public sector as well as those in private practice especially the general practitioners. The 2nd edition of the CPG on COPD management was published in November 2009.

The Lung Foundation of Malaysia, the philanthropic arm of MTS, was formed and registered in 2006 with Dr. Zainuddin Md. Zin as the founding Chairman.

In more recent years, the MTS has embarked a Spirometry Certification Programme and the reading materials have been published into a book, now in its second edition.  An Inhaler Training Certification course is planned.  The MTS has actively sought the involvement of members through appointment of state representatives and committees as well as formation of Special Interest Groups.  It also supports training and research activities of members by awarding educational travel grants and research grants.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the MTS Standards of Care Committee under the chairmanship of Prof Dr Roslina Abdul Manap has produced two sets of recommendations: the first on Endoscopy Services during COVID-19 Pandemic (March 2020) and another one on Inhalational Therapy during the COVID-19 Pandemic (April 2020).   On 11th May 2020, the MTS released its press statement on “Wearing Facemasks in Public is Key to Help Control Covid-19 during Extended Conditional MCO”, which was picked up and widely reported in the local print and online media.  The MTS donated a High Flow Nasal Cannula Device to the state of Sabah in November 2020 since there were many patients with COVID-19 there requiring ventilatory support.  In late May 2021, when the third wave of the pandemic hit, the MTS and Lung Foundation of Malaysia started a donation drive to supply oxygen concentrators to Ministry of Health Quarantine and Treatment Centres.   Educational activities were organised in the form of virtual meetings and webinars as well as online CME modules hosted on the MTS Education website which was launched in early 2020.  The MTS 2020 Annual Congress was originally scheduled to be held in Fraser Place, Puteri Harbor, Johor Bahru from 16th – 19th July 2020 but had to be postponed to 10th – 13th December 2020.  It was planned as a hybrid conference but because of travel restrictions, it was finally held as a fully virtual conference (for the first time) with the attendance of 527 delegates.  

As the COVID-19 pandemic transitioned into the endemic phase, physical meetings resumed with the 2021 MTS Congress taking place in December of that year.  In 2023, the Spirometry Certification Programme marked its first 10 years of collaboration with the Ministry of Health. 

Updated 4th September 2023