There is much to learn not just for Hong Kong but for the international community in general in the SARS outbreak, the Chairperson of the Public Health Group of the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) Expert Committee, Professor Sian Griffiths, said today (July 11).
Wrapping up the group's five-day meeting at a media session, Prof Griffiths who has had a distinguished career in service public health, said the group of international experts with background in public health was here to listen to the public health perspective of the SARS outbreak.
"We're not here to judge. We're here to try to extract lessons to learn and there are many lessons to learn," she said.
She hoped the final report would be one they would be able to share internationally.
Two group members, Dr Meirion Evans and Professor Lee Shiu-hung, were also present at the media session.
Summing up their activities in the past five days, Prof Griffiths said members had listened and asked questions on a wide range of issues when met with a lot of different parties including senior health officials, hospital administrators and managers, clinicians, local health and epidemiological experts, as well as legislators, officials from the Social Welfare Department, operators of elderly homes, and members of the Elderly Commission.
They also visited Amoy Gardens and met with residents' representatives to listen to their views and concerns on the government's handling of the outbreak.
Prof Griffiths said a few of the headlines and issues from listening came out and the group would follow up and picked up in their final report.
The first issue was proactive communication with the Mainland in the exchange of information about infectious diseases across the boundary. The group noted communication has been one of the key things in public health.
"Public health is about protection, health protection, is about making sure things that happen and one of the things we would like to look at is around exchanging information across borders to make sure that we will be as informed as early as possible."
Noting SARS was a new and unknown disease, Prof Griffiths said developing a contingency plan was crucial in the handling of a new infectious disease and this would be one of the issues they would look at further.
She also pointed out the importance of primary health care in the overall strategy of disease surveillance. Noting that there were some changes taking place in the delivery of health care services, she said the group would reflect their views on how the public health system should be shaped for the future in terms of the public health and disease surveillance and prevention.
On learning Hong Kong's plan to set up a Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) type organisation, Prof Griffiths said they would in their future recommendations look at particularly what should a CDC-function be for Hong Kong to ensure Hong Kong would be in a strengthened surveillance position for future communicable diseases.
On surveillance aspects, Dr Evans noted there had been a number of surveillance systems existed in Hong Kong and he believed they could be strengthened adding that the group would make positive recommendations in this respect.
Professor Lee Shiu-hung also underlined the importance of maintaining personal hygiene and the need to be constantly alert. He said the success in containing the disease would depend on the concerted efforts of the government and all members of the community.
The Public Health Group was set up under the SARS Expert Committee to identify problem areas from the SARS incident from a public health perspective. It will join another expert group of the committee - Hospital Management and Administration Group - in a plenary session in August to deliberate overall and interfacing issues.
The SARS Expert Committee was appointed by the Chief Executive on May 28 to identify lessons to be learnt from the SARS outbreak and to make recommendations on improvement measures to the public health system so that Hong Kong is better prepared for any possible resurgence of SARS or other infectious diseases.
End/Friday, July 11, 2003