Following is a speech (translation) by Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food, Dr Yeoh Eng-kiong, at the joint annual dinner hosted by Hong Kong Public Doctors' Association and Government Doctors' Association today (June 26):
Dr Leung, Dr Lui, distinguished guests and colleagues,
Joining you this evening at the Joint Annual Dinner of the Government Doctors' Association and the Public Doctors' Association brings back a lot of memories. I am happy to see many young faces in addition to old friends. First of all, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the outgoing Chairman and Council members for their past contribution, and to congratulate the new Chairman and Council members on their election.
The past few months have been a most difficult time for the entire community, in particular for the medical profession. We had little knowledge about SARS, the new disease confronting us, except that this disease appeared to have a predisposition to attack health care workers and close contacts of patients. This could have been the perfect setting for despair and helplessness, but fortunately, for the community, this was not so for medical professionals in Hong Kong. Despite the infectivity of this disease, which has affected 386 health care workers, and taken away 8 lives, you have demonstrated your courage and ability and persevered in your excellent work - be it as a clinician caring for patients in hospitals, holding the first line of defense in out-patient clinics, or monitoring the health of confinees at home or in isolation camps; or as a public health expert in deciphering the new virus or carrying out measures to contain the spread of the disease; or as a dental officer taking care of the oral health of patients. Many of you have sacrificed your personal and family life by self-imposed confinement or living away from home, for fear of infecting others in the unfortunate event that you are infected.
The WHO has commended Hong Kong's heroic work in containing the SARS outbreak. The true hero lies in each and every one of you. I am most grateful for your hard work, your professionalism, your courage and above all, your selfless devotion to serve our community unswervingly during this difficult period. Your gallant fight against SARS has won the highest respect of our community.
The recent SARS epidemic has clearly pointed to the need of strengthening existing infectious diseases control facilities in the public hospital system. As an immediate step, we will improve and develop the existing isolation facilities for suspected SARS cases in our acute hospitals. These include improving ventilation, more individual rooms to isolate patients where necessary, allowing our frontline health care workers more room for changing and resting. The Government has reserved $435 million for this purpose. We are also considering the construction of additional buildings for isolation and treatment of patients with infectious diseases in selected acute hospitals.
In addition to the resources earmarked for treatment of diseases, strengthening infection control and public health education, we will seek approval to create a fund in the Hospital Authority to provide training in infectious disease control for health care staff and assistance to health care staff infected with SARS. We will also seek funding to establish a foundation in support of local universities and research institutions in conducting further medical researches - be it in the field of SARS or other infectious diseases.
To identify lessons learnt to better prepare our system for any future outbreaks, the Chief Executive has appointed the SARS Expert Committee to review the work of the Government, including the Hospital Authority, in the management and control of the SARS outbreak. We are inviting public submissions on the SARS incident and on issues relevant to the scope of work of the Committee. Your views and suggestions are most welcome. We expect to submit a report on the findings and recommendations to the Chief Executive in September.
Members of the two Associations have demonstrated their best qualities in rising to the SARS challenge. I am sure you will continue to serve the community with the same spirit in future challenges.
End/Thursday, June 26, 2003