Message from the President, C.H. Leong, July 2003
The saga of SARS has left a chain of devastation of unfathomed dimension¡Xit has produced complete disruption to our economy; it has caused havoc in our health care service; it has downed over 1700 people, all fallen victim to the disease. Many, though recovered, are still suffering from residual effects. Worse yet, it has taken away valuable lives. To the Academy, SARS has completely disrupted our training programmes and, irreparably, it has robbed us of 3 distinguished Fellows as well as one trainee.
To the families of Dr James Lau Tai Kwan, Dr Joanna Tse Yuen Man, Dr Thomas Cheung Sik Hin, and Dr Kate Cheng Ha Yan, the Academy offers our sincere condolences. To them, our beloved colleagues, we salute them. They epitomise the true spirit of the Hippocratic Oath. They are shining examples of the medical profession¡Xtruly committed to their profession, totally devoted to their patients, exposing themselves to danger, even sacrificing their own lives to save patients, with no regrets.
As of this month, it appears that we are getting the upper hand in the fight against the disease. Yet it is not the time to be complacent. The war is far from being won. For the medical profession, we must continue with vigilance, perhaps taking this ¡¥breathing time¡¦ to improve our knowledge and tactics in confronting this disease. It is time to keep on working. It is not the time for celebration or jubilation.
Yes, SARS has brought on disaster and crisis, yet with danger there is always hope and opportunity.
We have witnessed the change in attitude of the public, dare I say, for the better. Overnight, the previously over-dependent public realised that to remain healthy is their own responsibility¡Xthey adorn masks, avoid crowded places, and many have even given up smoking. Many are for the first time cleaning up their own backstreets if not backyards. Overnight, the panic of SARS and the devotion of the medical profession have become the catalyst for the people of Hong Kong to come together, to fight the disease, to support the work of health care workers, and to produce a more caring society for the future. Let us hope that these are not just knee jerk reactions but are here to stay.
It is time for the Government and our policy makers to ponder over the effectiveness of their crisis management and make improvements for the future.
The health care profession should take this opportunity to push for further reform of the health care service. Hitherto, the Government has been slashing the budget for health care basing on total fiscal deficit, irrespective of health care needs. Yes, productivity gain is extremely important especially in these lean days, yet health care is an essential service for which the necessary budget allocation must be tailored to the requirements of the community.
The best way to provide equality and accessibility to the best health care for all in the community, given a rational public budget, is to adopt the principle of ¡¥target subsidy¡¦ where public money should be used to subsidise those who need it most either because of their financial means or severe chronic illnesses. Those that fall outside the target subsidy net should pay for the service they receive, be it in the public or private sector.
The Academy should take this opportunity to revisit many areas, in particular the specialist manpower needs. Hitherto, the thrust of specialist training seemed very much concentrated on high tech and cutting edge advancement type of medical specialties. SARS has exposed our weaknesses, if not our needs, vis-a-vis our knowledge of infectious disease, infection control and public health. New infections are always waiting around the corner and old infections are eagerly waiting to return.
The new entity of SARS has brought along much opportunity for us to reform the health care systemand to reprioritise our health care needs. Such foresight could best be achieved through proper data analysis and cooperation between the different sectors of the medical profession. Finger pointing and witch hunting could well be a hindrance..