KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 16 — London-based surgeon Dr Nur Amalina Che Bakri has urged for laws regulating health products in Malaysia to be tightened, amid a rising trend of harmful health products characterised by pseudoscience and dangerous misinformation promoted by social media “influencers”.
Writing for Imperial College London in its “Three Wise Women from the Faculty of Medicine” series, the Malaysia-born doctor said current regulation needs to be updated as it has changed little since its introduction in 1956.
“Companies pay celebrities to endorse medical products and target the demographics most susceptible to engage,” said Dr Nur Amalina, who herself has over 450,000 followers on Twitter.
“Miracle cures and products offering a quick fix are very popular in Malaysia, my native country, despite not having any clinical studies.
“They have long been advertised on mainstream media but are now available for immediate purchase on social media. Some of these products offer quick, guaranteed ‘cures’ for diseases including diabetes, chronic kidney failure and cancer,” she added.
While she did not name the regulation, it is believed she was referring to the Medicines (Advertisement and Sale) Act 1956.
Dr Nur Amalina also recalled — with absurdity — how she had to argue against traditional herbal remedy, or jamu, which claimed to tighten a woman’s vagina when eaten or administered on the private parts.
She noted several examples in Malaysia such as harmful skin whitening products that contained mercury which posed a significant risk to health in which she cited Malaysian society that favoured fairer skin aesthetically.
She then pointed out how the “epidemic” was a worrying trend as it frequently contributed to a myriad of health problems for uninformed customers.
Dr Nur Amalina also highlighted how she has been using her online presence to disseminate scientifically proven and accurate health information to debunk myths and fake medical news.
With pseudoscience and social media on the rise, Dr Nur Amalina said this has facilitated a new industry of social media influencers — influential people sponsored by businesses to produce content — which promoted a multitude of pseudoscience products, harmful and miraculous multi-cure products, as well as dubious medical practices.
“For example, multivitamin intravenous therapy has become an increasingly popular trend, even though limited clinical studies have been carried out to verify the alleged health benefits to consumers.
“In September, Instagram launched a ban on toxic weight loss products and cosmetic surgery promoted by the likes of Kim Kardashian and other social media influencers,” she said, adding regulations over influencer marketing were welcomed in what was still uncharted territories.
On her aim in 2020, Dr Nur Amalina said she wanted to produce an educational-digital application including a website for school children in order to educate and raise awareness on a wide range of general health issues.
“The internet and social media can be a volatile environment, but I will not be cowed or intimidated by a minority few who spread hate as they are outnumbered by the positive community that exists on social media.
“It is important to stay focused, ignore the trolls and negativity and provide evidence-based medicine as a source when making a statement.
“My objective is to help my fellow Malaysians and others around the world, and I would encourage others in positions of authority to do the same,” she said.
Most recently, Dr Nur Amalina received support from many Malaysians for calling out Malaysian actress and celebrity entrepreneur Neelofa over the latter’s newest offering, the Nilofa banana milk drink.
The brand had ludicruously claimed that the drink is be able to reduce obesity and provide other nutritional benefits to consumers like lowering high blood pressure, increase metabolism rate and even remove toxins from the body.