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Speech by SHWF at Inauguration Ceremony of Centre for Health Protection


Following is the speech (English only) by the Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food, Dr York Chow, at the Inauguration Ceremony of the Centre for Health Protection today (October 27):

Dr Omi, Dr Wang, Mr Chan, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

It gives me a great pleasure to welcome all of you today to what is a major milestone for the public health system of Hong Kong. I would particularly like to welcome our guests from all over the world. We are particularly honoured to welcome Dr Omi, from the World Health Organization (WHO); Dr Wang from Ministry of Health; and, Mr Chan (John) from the Hong Kong Jockey Club as our officiating guests.

You may recall approximately a year-and-a-half ago, Hong Kong was firmly gripped by a deadly new disease called SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). Almost 300 people lost their lives during the outbreak and I know that this painful experience is still an emotional burden for the families, friends and our society. Meanwhile, those in the community who are still suffering from the after effects of the disease. The Hong Kong Government is committed to do everything in its power to make sure that our community does not have to suffer again.

In the aftermath of SARS, it was decided early on that one of the best ways to protect our community from any new, emerging or evolving public health threats was the establishment of an organisation in Hong Kong similar to the Centre for Disease Control (CDC). And so, from the kernel of that idea, today we see the inauguration of our own Centre for Health Protection, of CHP for short.

The fact that we are inaugurating our CHP today is in itself a remarkable achievement in the space of less than one year. It shows our determination to remain vigilant and prepared, and epitomises the 're-energised' spirit of Hong Kong people. However, we could not have achieved this without the staunch support of the Legislative Council, the Hospital Authority, private healthcare professionals, academics and other community leaders. And, of course, I must also express my sincere thanks to the Hong Kong Jockey Club for its generous donations of $500 million to support the CHP's initial operations.

In fact, the CHP started its work just four months ago in June and has already strengthened our capacity to prevent and control communicable diseases.

Please allow me to explain here the strategic role of the CHP.

The CHP is committed to achieving effective prevention and control of initially communicable diseases in Hong Kong and later to collaborating with local and international partners. In day-to-day operations, it is guided by '3Rs' - real-time surveillance, rapid intervention and responsive risk communication. While the CHP will initially focus on communicable diseases, it will progressively have a more prominent role to play in controlling other non-communicable diseases that would pose health threats to our community.

Reporting to the CHP Controller, Dr P Y Leung, are six functional branches handling specific areas in public health: surveillance and epidemiology; infection control; laboratory services; programme management; professional development; emergency response, and, public health services.

The CHP's institutional arrangements are grounded on a collaborative approach to health protection. Let me elaborate.

Firstly, the CHP believes in best available science and research evidence. A board of scientific advisors and seven scientific committees have been set up to pool professional knowledge and expertise both locally and internationally. This professional input will help shape strategies and programmes to manage communicable diseases or risk factors of importance to Hong Kong.

Secondly, the CHP adopts a population-based, cross-sectoral approach to address various public health threats. It has made concerted efforts to engage other government departments, non-government organisations, private hospitals, general practitioners, community points-of-care and the tourism sector to enhance our preparedness against SARS and other communicable diseases. Our friends in the media are also important players, and I must commend them for helping us to arouse public awareness about various health hazards. We will continue to encourage media support of our work, especially enduring high-risk periods such as the fast-approaching cold and 'flu season.

Thirdly, globalisation poses significant public health implications in the international arena. We know that communicable diseases have no respect for national borders or boundaries. So, there is a pressing need for more international co-operation to combat new emerging diseases.

On the regional front, the CHP has established communications with the national Ministry of Health, the Health Department of the Guangdong Provincial Government and the Department of Health of the Macau SAR. The Third Joint Meeting of Senior Health Officials of Mainland, Hong Kong and Macau two weeks ago was a great success. We agreed to step up surveillance for SARS and avian flu in a bid to detect possible infections as early as possible. Here, I would like to personally thank Dr Wang for his involvement in advancing co-operation between the Mainland and Hong Kong health authorities.

The CHP has also been forging closer ties with health protection agencies further afield. Our maiden memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed with the Health Protection Agency of England and Wales earlier this year. This MOU sets the stage for both agencies to pursue collaborative projects on training, contingency planning, research and development, etc. We are also working towards a stronger alliance between the CHP and the newly-established European CDC.

While maintaining collaboration, I must express my gratitude to the WHO, and to Dr Omi in particular, who has been most supportive of Hong Kong's work on disease prevention and control. Dr Omni, your participation in today's ceremony provides great encouragement for the CHP and its working partners to rise to the challenges ahead.

Ladies and gentlemen, the CHP is a new agency but we are already staffed with highly professional and dedicated people who I know will work extremely hard to realise our vision for a centre of excellence in disease prevention and control. In the process, we will continue to draw on your wise counsel. With your support and professional input, I am sure the CHP will be able to build a strong line of defence against the spread of communicable diseases in Hong Kong and the Asia-Pacific region. And I certainly hope, and believe, that CHP will also be able to play a role in protecting the collective public health of the global village in which we all dwell. Thank you very much.

Ends/Wednesday, October 27, 2004


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