Following is the welcoming speech (English only) by the Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food, Dr Yeoh Eng-kiong, at the "Report on Hong Kong's Anti-SARS Measures cum Inauguration Ceremony of the Scientific Advisory Structure of the Centre for Health Protection, Department of Health" held at the Public Health Laboratory Centre today (June 23):
Dr Oshitani, Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Welcome all to this memorable occasion. Today is a special day. It is a day remembered as this same day was last year. And our feelings are mixed.
The SARS outbreak last spring was a painful experience for many in the community. It meant a great loss for individuals and for our society. On June 23, as we welcomed the WHO's announcement to remove Hong Kong from the list of areas with recent local transmission of SARS, I took the opportunity to thank members of the community for rising to the challenge in unity to fight against the disease, leading to its eradication in Hong Kong. We have won the battle against SARS because our healthcare workers had devoted themselves wholeheartedly and selflessly. We have fought and won because our colleagues in the government, non-governmental agencies and related organisations had demonstrated unwavering commitment and diligence to implement public health control measures. We have won because our clinicians and researchers had worked non-stop to pin down and unfold the properties of the SARS coronavirus. And we have made it because our community had been most understanding and intelligent in taking collective actions to protect our people from further harm.
One year ago, people were speculating if there would be a seasonal pattern for SARS. What turned out in the last 12 months told us that seasonal factors were not the only concerns. Indeed, a variety of factors ranging from intrusion of mankind into nature, contact with wildlife, and unsafe practices in laboratories could be the trigger points for human infection.
I pledged that we should learn from experience and work together to build a public health system that would better prepare the local community against the disease, should it ever return. In the past 12 months, we have rebuilt our public health defence system and enhanced our capacity to manage an outbreak. We are now much more equipped to combat infectious diseases swiftly and rigorously. We have built new buttresses through strengthening our preparedness for a potential outbreak and maintaining close and effective surveillance for infectious diseases.
Until now, Hong Kong has remained SARS-free because we have remarkably and in a timely manner rebuilt our public health systems of infectious disease surveillance and control.
In the next hour, I will invite key government departments, agencies and academic institutions to share with us their actions in preventing SARS, and progress made so far.
The Government is also taking heed of the SARS Expert Committee's recommendations, and established the Centre for Health Protection under the Department of Health. The Centre for Health Protection, or CHP in short, has the mission of achieving effective prevention and control of diseases in Hong Kong in collaboration with major local and international stakeholders. The CHP aspires to become a centre of excellence in disease prevention and control.
Established the first day of this month, the CHP will harness and consolidate professional knowledge and expertise in combating infectious diseases, making Hong Kong better placed in tackling health threats and responding to outbreaks. The CHP will expand the disease surveillance network with the aid of information technology, set up a structured epidemiology training programme, enhance laboratory services, develop applied research and prepare emergency response plans. In the event of an outbreak, the CHP will be equipped for timely and effective risk communication, prompt response and activating surge capacity in collaboration with parties concerned. The functions of the CHP are many, and workload is bound to be heavy. Yet, the key word behind all these is collaboration.
To secure a firm footing for the CHP to work with its partners, the Director of Health has invited experts in different fields to serve on the Board of Scientific Advisers and seven scientific committees. This is a major step to pool knowledge, expertise and intelligence both locally and internationally. The Board of Scientific Advisers and Scientific Committees will no doubt provide a milieu conducive to the deliberation and exchange of views on issues relating to communicable diseases of public health importance. I am pleased to announce today the inauguration of the Scientific Advisory Structure of the Centre for Health Protection. The Board of Scientific Advisers will hold its first meeting after this Report-back session. Thereafter, the seven scientific committees, each with specific issues of concern, will embark on their exciting journeys of professional deliberations and scientific exchanges for the betterment of Hong Kong's health.
While still on collaboration, I must express my sincere thanks to the World Health Organisation, and to Dr Oshitani personally, who has been most supportive of our work in communicable disease control. I am particularly thankful for Dr Oshitani taking time off from his very tight schedule to join us today and provide a regional perspective of communicable diseases and control. We shall have much to learn from Dr Oshitani's presentation as well as the experience from regional Member States, as we appreciate the intricate relationship between Hong Kong and our neighbours in protecting regional and global health.
I look forward to your continued support and guidance as we fight our common foe and make Hong Kong, and the world, a healthier and better place to live in.
Thank you once again.
Ends/Wednesday, June 23, 2004