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Speech by Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food


Following is the speech (English only) by the Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food, Dr Yeoh Eng-kiong, at the Conference on Public Health and Inauguration Ceremony of the World Association of Chinese Public Health Professionals today (March 5):

Professor Lee, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

I am very honoured to be invited to speak at the inauguration of the World Association of Chinese Public Health Professionals - an important occasion which represents a new page of cooperation and collaboration among ethnic Chinese in different parts of the world on public health issues.

I would also like to take this opportunity to welcome speakers and participants from different parts of the world to share their ideas, expertise and experience on the topic of public health - a most timely and challenging issue which we are all facing, both locally and globally.

Ethnic Chinese work in different walks of life in almost every corner of the world. Their resilience and perseverance need no elaboration. "Mutual assistance and mutual love" has been a key attribute of Chinese people. Apart from contributions to the Chinese community, the contribution of ethnic Chinese to international communities is well recognised by all communities. Indeed, we have been playing an instrumental role in the global socio-economic development.

In the field of public health, we have been working diligently in, and making important contributions to, medical and heath services, academia, research and development, as well as regional and international health organisations. We see great opportunity for all of us, working together to share our expertise and experience in tackling the present-day public health challenges, notably emerging and re-emerging infections.

In the age of globalisation with increased movement of people and goods from one place to another, and other factors like change in global climate, fast population growth and changes in human behaviour, public health risks to our living environment have become a major concern to us. The outbreak of SARS last year and the recent avian influenza clearly demonstrate how fast and wide an infectious disease can spread, how lethal the diseases can be to human and animal life, and how detrimental they can impact on local, regional and even global economy. To safeguard the health of our people and the sustainable development of the society, public health should always be a primary consideration in the formulation of public policy. We simply cannot afford to be lax and complacent with emerging and re-emerging diseases around the corner.

Our neighbouring regions are recently plagued by avian flu. Thanks to the measures we have taken in the wake of our previous experience, we have been fortunate so far to remain unaffected. To guard against resurgence of avian flu in Hong Kong, the Government has over the years implemented a host of measures to guard against possible outbreak targeting in particular the sources of the virus and potential carriers, ie, live poultry, and wild and migratory birds. The measures we have taken include vaccination of local chickens, tightened biosecurity measures in local farms, import control on chicken from the Mainland, strengthened hygiene requirements for wholesale and retail outlets of birds. Above all, we have also established a comprehensive surveillance programme on human influenza and avian influenza, covering a network of clinics, hospitals and laboratories in the public and private sectors; and a surveillance programme for poultry at all levels from imports and local farms, wholesale and retail outlets, to wild birds, waterfowls in recreational parks and pet birds available for sale in the market.

On the human side, we have stepped up public health measures to prevent human infections. For example, we made avian flu H5 a statutory notifiable disease in January this year. We have also stepped up health checks at border checkpoints, enhanced monitoring of the influenza situation locally through sentinel surveillance, laboratory surveillance, and investigation of influenza-like-illness outbreaks, and maintained close contacts with relevant health authorities in the Mainland, the World Health Organisation and overseas health authorities for the latest information on human infections.

Infectious disease knows no frontiers. Unlike border health checks on humans, we simply cannot prevent migratory birds from moving from one place to another. Mutual assistance and enhanced cooperation are important ingredients in the recipe for success in our battle against infectious diseases. We are not living in isolation. The world is a global village in which no one can thrive on his or her own. Sustainable and healthy development of this global village requires cooperation and collaboration among all of us to tackle issues not only in our backyard, but also in the global entity.

The organisation of this Conference of Public Health is timely for us to share experience and expertise in tackling the present challenge in the region.

I hope that you will have an insightful and stimulating exchange at the conference, and I am looking forward to seeing some positive synergy coming out from it.

Thank you.

Ends/Friday, March 5, 2004


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