A Regional Disease Control Centre: Prospects and Challenges

Shuyee Chen


Medical representatives from the government, Legco and academia, gathered May 22 to discuss the need for the establishment of a regional disease surveillance centre in the territory to tackle the spread of infectious disease. The forum, "Lifting Hong Kong's Regional Status: The Establishment of a Regional Disease Surveillance Centre," was organized by CityU's APEC Study Centre.

"SARS has taught us that the spread of infectious disease has no geographical boundaries," said Professor Leung Ping Chung of Prince of Wales Hospital and the Chinese University of Hong Kong. "If an infectious disease surveillance centre is to be set up, it cannot be a local one. It ought to be regional." Despite the "one country, two systems" political reality, he believes that an efficient and effective surveillance system would require Hong Kong to include its neighbours, especially the Pearl River Delta, in the setup. "It is the only way to ensure that we have a better defense system (against disease) in future."

Dr Lo Wing-lok, a Legislative Councilor, was also in full support of setting up a regional centre. He noted that Hong Kong has always been a focal point in many respects as hundreds of thousands of people come in and out of Hong Kong every day. "This brings us not only wealth and expertise, but also disease. Because of this, we need very good communication with our neighbours and with the world, so that we can be better prepared for infectious disease and minimize its impact on Hong Kong." He emphasized that reliable communication is the key. "If everyone is fulfilling his duty in local surveillance and the communication of information locally and internationally, we will have a very good surveillance communication system."

A government expert in infectious disease, Dr Thomas Tsang, Consultant in the Disease Prevention & Control Division of the HKSAR's Department of Health, recognized the increasing threats of infectious disease in the region. Apart from SARS, there is influenza A (H5N1), entrovirus 71, nipah virus, and dengue fever, among others. If a surveillance centre is to be set up, Dr Tsang suggested that its main tasks should include: strengthening the surveillance and response to infectious disease; implementing, supporting and evaluating programmes for the prevention and control of infectious disease; making guidelines and recommendations for government and the public; and providing training to develop expertise. Dr Tsang, trained for two years in the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States, saw advantages in Hong Kong's setting up a regional surveillance centre. "Being a hub for international travel, Hong Kong is well equipped in its public health infrastructure and has advanced labs, quality researchers and international expert networks. It also has relatively abundant resources."

Dr Xu Ruiheng, Vice Director of Guangdong Province's Disease Control Centre, praised Hong Kong's contribution to quality research on SARS and its open and efficient communication system. "Any sudden public health issue demands a special working group or office to be responsible for tackling it, whether it's a government unit or an individual body depends on society's needs." He shared his Centre's approach to passing on health information: "We focus on choosing the right channel to reach the right audience with the right message at the right time."

Drawing the forum to an close, Dr Lo reminded the audience that a disease surveillance centre alone will not help prevent or control the spread of infectious disease adequately. "The government should also strive to improve Hong Kong's public health in addition to building a strong hospital system. It is the foundation part in this regard."

The forum was chaired by Professor Y S Wong, CityU's Vice-President (Administration), and moderated by Dr Li Kui Wai, Coordinator of APEC Study Centre and Associate Professor in the Department of Economics and Finance. The objective of the APEC Study Center is to organize APEC-related scholarly activities with the aim of promoting further understanding among APEC peoples.





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