Following is a speech by the Secretary for Health and Welfare, Dr E K Yeoh, at the opening ceremony of the inauguration conference organised by the Hong Kong Health Education and Health Promotion Foundation today (Saturday):
Professor Lee, Members of the Foundation, Distinguished Speakers and Guests,
It gives me great pleasure to see a group of caring community leaders, educators and health professionals to gather together and take this initiative to set up The Hong Kong Health Education and Health Promotion Foundation. I am honoured to have this opportunity, at the Inauguration Conference of the Foundation, to deliver an address in the presence of so many renowned experts in public health service.
Debates on health care reforms have often focused on how to re-engineer, deliver and finance our health care services. We tend to emphasise the supply side of the system. Less attention has been paid to the demand side, in particular, how health care needs can be modified by improving the health status of the community.
In defining public health, the American Institute of Medicine refers to the "organised community efforts aimed at the prevention of disease and promotion of health". In the Report of the Acheson Committee which addresses the future of public health in England, public health is defined as "the science and art of preventing disease, prolonging life and promoting health through organised efforts of society". Both definitions stress the importance of community efforts.
I agree with this emphasis. To achieve lasting improvement to public health, we need a co-ordinated, multi-discipline programme and a process of community involvement. Educators, social workers, marketers and other professionals can help conveying the health messages through their network and by use of their professional skills, reaching beyond the usual limits of the health care sector. To change an individual's lifestyle requires a change in knowledge, practice and attitude, and that is not an easy task. The best way to achieve this change is to involve the targets themselves in the process,and impress upon them, first-hand, the importance of a healthy lifestyle.
I am glad to see that the Foundation, as set out in its Mission Statement, emphasises the value of partnership and of a multi-disciplinary and mutli-sectoral approach. This is an effective approach to tackle our problems in public health and the Foundation will be able to make a lot of contributions by adopting this approach.
To take the subject one step further, I would like to remind ourselves that the major determinants of health involve, in addition to health care, a wide range of other physical, social, economic and environmental factors. It has been argued that it is in these areas that lies the greatest scope for future health gains. I would encourage the Foundation to reach out to research on how these other issues, such as education, transport, housing or income distribution may impact on the health status of the community, and to serve as a bridge between the health and these other sectors. In the long term, our final aim is to build up an inter-sectoral infrastructure for the protection and improvement of public health.
I wish the Foundation every success in their future work.
END/Saturday, December 4, 1999 NNNN