AOECS Annual Conference 2011

The 25th AOECS Conference was held in Malta at The Hilton Hotel St. Julians. The Maltese delegates were Mary Rose Caruana, Connie Debattista, Carole Pace Balzan, George Cardona Schranz, Angela Mifsud, Sandra Russo and Josephine Chircop as committee members, and Profs. Christian Scerri, AOECS Board Member. Taking part in the youth section were Manuel Azzopardi and Martha Carabott. The annual AOECS Meeting also included a day dedicated to an International Medicel Meeting on Coeliac Disease & Better Diagnosis. All delegates present were invited to attend the Medicel meeting.

The Maltese delegate who attended the Medicel meeting was Connie Debattista. All members present discussed the need to work strongly as a team so that the need of those with the condition will be more understood. On the scientific side the importance of the early lookout for symptoms was stressed so that doctors will reach an early diagnosis.

CD Medics has helped:

  • to increase awareness amongst Health Care Professionals and the public in general.
  • to train personnel in various medical fields, organise conferences and courses, workshops and road shows to create awareness.
  • with progress in the diagnostic field and promote the Coeliac Cause.

Coeliac Disease is the most chronic disorder in Europe and family studies have shown an increased incidence of 5 to 15%. A study to show the incidence of CD gave this result.

  • In any person not related to a patient with Coeliac Disease the incidence is 1%
  • In family members related to a patient with Coeliac Disease the incidence is 10%
  • In an identical twin to a coeliac the incidence is 30%
  • In a non-identical twin to a coeliac the incidence is 20%

Medical Practitioners should follow these diagnostic criteria when they have a suspicion. It will help in early and right diagnosis.

  1. Family History
  2. Clinical Examination
  3. Specific Antibody markers blood tests
  4. Genetic Markers and IgA Immunoglobulin tests
  5. Biopsy & Histology. This diagnostic tool is still the Gold rule for confirmation of diagnosis and it is very important.
  • Prevalence of Coeliac Disease at this stage is 1% of the world population.
  • 10% of family members are affected.
  • A form of questionnaire filled by a doctor noting
  1. Family History
  2. Symptoms
  3. Related disease or auto immune disorders
  4. Malignancies
  5. Environmental factors can sometimes be a good eye opener to the doctor to set the ball rolling for early diagnosis.

During the AOECS Conference an interesting session dealt with the issue of using the social media to get our message across.

  • People get involved to help and support each other and promote awareness.
  • Various means of social media are continuously bombarding us with information.
  • We have to be very careful because information on the various social media, unfortunately is not always the correct information.
  • When using the social media, care has to be taken to convey the right message.
  • In a case like the Coeliac Condition what is written and said is extremely important as anything that is misleading does not only result in total confusion but will also cause health problems.

It was agreed that the best source to get the right info is the association. As European associations we support each other in all aspects to get the right reliable source for the good health of our members.

Another session was the problem coeliacs face when eating out.

The following points were mentioned:

  • Problems we encounter were common to most associations if not all.
  • Some associations have a compiled list of hotels and restaurants that are aware of the Coeliac Condition.
  • One can never be 100% sure.
  • Members should be educated to ask and query about their dietary requirements
  • Double check the menu and query any food item or ingredient that is not clear.
  • It is the person’s responsibility.
  • When associations issue a list of hotels and restaurants, they also add a disclaimer. Kitchen staff changes from time to time and many associations do not have the man power or trained staff to follow up all this no matter how hard they try.

The Italian Coeliac Society gave a presentation on an Eating-Out project created 11 years ago, the guidelines being:

  • which ingredients to use/not use.
  • where and how to store gluten free foods.
  • where and how to prepare gluten free food/meals.
  • how to serve a gluten free meal.

Coeliac UK gave a presentation regarding gluten free catering. A new law on gluten free geared to 20 ppm to apply also to caterers will come into effect. Research was carried out aimed for better understanding in the catering sector about the levels of gluten in food prepared for people with coeliac disease, for more understanding on the condition, and to develop guidance for chefs.

Another issue discussed during the conference was the progress in the labelling situation and also how we can use the advanced technology we have today in a good way to create awareness. The following are the main points discussed:

  • The new level for any product to be labelled as gluten free is now 20ppm.
  • Ingredients lists will be clearer and have a better indication.
  • Allergens and ingredients containing gluten are to be listed if included in the product.
  • This will affect the catering section as well
  • In the catering sector a food item that started as having 0ppm can have more than 20ppm by the time it reaches the consumer.
  • This can come from ingredients used, handling and environmental contamination.
  • Caterers should be aware of the levels of gluten in the food prepared for people with Coeliac Disease.
  • Identify conditions needed to produce a gluten free meal.
  • Educate and develop guidance to chefs and caterers universally.

Towards the end of the conference members of the association were invited to visit the Exhibition Hall to view the extensive range of products available in the European market and have the opportunity to sample some of the products, some of which were also distributed to all those who attended.