Saturday, February 11, 2017

Global Allergy Epidemic Looms

Response delivered by Dr Abe V Rotor on the 13th Biennial Convention, and 40th (Ruby) anniversary of the Philippine Society of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, PSAAI.  

Dr Arturo B Rotor, first Filipino Allergist and director of Philippine General Hospital, author of short stories (The Men Who Play God and Other stories, Ateneo de Manila Printing Press), former executive secretary of two past presidents - Manuel Quezon and Sergio Osmeña. 

Dr Agnes Gonzalez-Andaya (Over-all Chair of this Convention),
Dr Linda Lim-Varona (President, PSAAI),
Dr Madeleine Sumpaico (Dr Arturo Rotor’s lecturer for this 13th Biennial Convention, and 40th (Ruby) anniversary of PSAAI),
Members of the organizing committee and advisory council, and Board of Directors, ·         Participants, guests, ladies and gentlemen.  

Your theme in this convention, “Issues and Controversies in Allergy and Immunology: Solution for the Clinicians.” is a very timely one.  It is complementary with the theme  of 2008 11th biennial convention when I was invited to be your lecturer and talked of  “Understanding Allergies across the Specialties.”

In my lecture then I stated that no period in history has man influenced the environment as much as what he is doing today.  For instead of “tailoring" his lifestyle to the conditions of the environment, as what his ancestors did for centuries, he is modifying the environment in order to meet his growing affluence.

Dr Madeleine Sumpaico’s paper, "The truth about allergy shots and the emerging modalities," addresses the need to combat increasing cases of allergy and asthma .  As people lived in closed quarters and communities, as they move to cities, as the levels of pollution get higher  on land, in water and in the air – allergy is likely to grow into epidemic proportion.  Since there are no true boundaries of the earth,  the epidemic will continue to spread to both progressive or marginal communities.

Allergy does not only pry on poor living conditions, in fact it is the other way round.  During the Cold War which lasted for 45 years, scientists found a disturbing fact that cases of allergy in the highly progressive Western Germany far outweighed those in rural and less developed Eastern Germany.

Today as progress is patterned after the Western model – that of the US and Europe which West Germany adopted, it is expected that the allergy (and asthma) epidemic will be the most important health concern of everyone.  It reveals that affluence is a major cause of allergy and asthma.   

In a number of times Dr Arturo B Rotor expressed warning of this growing threat in his book The Men Who Play God.  The subject of a mysterious disease in Santiago’s Syndrome, where a patient cannot be readily diagnosed  is characteristically that of allergy.  In another, The Boy Who Always Sneezed Three Times, gives us a scenario of an unhealthy atmosphere in which superstitious belief breeds. The MD and the Faith Healers tells us of two cases of healing that are different, yet aimed at a common ailment.  This is the case when the situation presents itself to not only one possible solution.  Here the patients are divided in  their belief to be healed – where choice is set aside in favor of whatever cure is effective. 

There is something in Dr Arturo Rotor’s revelation on why he stopped writing, the prolific, award-winning short story writer that he was.  To quote:

“I am no longer young, and because when I entered the practice of medicine I discovered suddenly that I did not possess the vocabulary to record or describe what I saw.  I could write vividly enough about characters which existed in my imagination.  But when I saw them in my clinic and noted the caught breath or measured the quickening pulse, I found myself inarticulate.  I knew then what I had written before was written neither with understanding nor with compassion.  And so I am learning how to write all over gain…”

The message of this confession may be subtle, but in the final analysis it is a wakeup call, not only in medicine but in all professions or vocations.  To all of us.  Imagination takes us into the realm of many possibilities, of theories incapable of generating their own proofs, of knowledge inapplicable to practical test, of plans and programs drawn on executive desk. It speaks of the energies of youth seeking expression, yet unguided into the priorities of the real world. Of imagined strategies far from the battlefield.  How romantic can be reality, excused at the end for the sake of art.  But life is more than art. “Caught breath, quickening pulse…” as Dr Rotor revealed is reality.

It is no wonder then when he delivered before the first Congress of Filipino Writers’ League in 1940, after receiving the Republic Heritage Award, he “accused” Filipino writers in English of lacking social consciousness and advocated for a dynamic proletarian literature to offset he timid and anemic literature being produced then by local writers.  He lamented their art-for-sake attitude and their emphasis in form and pattern that have blinded them to the vital issues that affected themselves and their country.

He continued to say that, “while the rest of the country is talking about the slums of Tondo and the peasants of Central Luzon,” he said, “our poets still sing ecstatically about the sunset in Manila Bay.

The calm scholar, the classic pianist, the green-thumb horticulturist, the little president of Quezon and Osmena unleashed  a Markham call for action.  For an Idea that soon unfolded after his time. The birth of media that rides on both literature and journalism.

What could be the implication of his call today?

1. Out there are children whose conditions are aggravated not just by the lack of medical attention, but by predisposing conditions to allergy and other disease.

2. Survivors of medical breakthroughs and not by Natural Selection imposed by the environment, who are now heavily dependent of medical care, perhaps for life, many of them incapable of  contributing something significant in return.

3. Senior citizens increasing by the thousands every year as longevity all over the world further widens the golden years of life, yet golden to not to many people and families.

4. Victims of calamities – Ondoy, the recent Intensified monsoon,  and even rare catastrophes like tsunami,  Fukushima nuclear meltdown , and diseases – Cambodia flu, virulent Dengue, leptospirosis, chicke flu, H1N1 – these, and many more challenge us with the reminder of Dr. Rotor’s wake up call.

-     "Of caught breath and quickening pulse … and neither written with understanding and compassion...  The country talking of slums in Tondo and poor peasants in Central Luzon … and writers  writing about  beautiful Manila Bay."

-     What a disparity! Dance Music on one hand and Twilight’s Convict on the other. Santiago’s Syndrome and Club Euthanasia.  Indeed Dr Arturo Rotor’s book, The Men Who Play God speaks not that we have intruded into the realm of highest knowledge, but our failure in applying that knowledge, translating it into practical wisdom for the patient, the slum dweller, the poor peasant, and today's millions suffering or predisposed to the greatest pandemic of our postmodern world – allergy and its complications. 

On behalf of  Dr Arturo Rotor,  the Rotor clan wishes to express their deep gratitude to PSAAI and its members and supporters for keeping his memory alive, and with it, the renewal of a great resolve,  the cause for which he lived, for which he dedicated unselfishly his valuable works. ~ 

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