Event raises students' awareness of little-known disease

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 November, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 November, 2001, 12:00am

Most people who hear the word thalassaemia may recognise it as Greek in origin. But they may not realise it is a deadly kind of hereditary anaemia.

Sufferers need five injections a week for the rest of their lives. The only cure is umbilical blood transfusion.

Even more alarmingly, it is estimated that almost one in 10 people in Hong Kong are carriers of the disease.

A group of secondary students have pledged to help raise public awareness of the little-known condition.

Fifteen fourth and sixth formers from the Christian Alliance Cheng Wing Gee College have joined the first Student Ambassador Programme organised by the City University.

With the help of The Children's thalassaemia Foundation, they launched a Thalassaemia Week at school to promote understanding of the condition and clear up misconceptions among their schoolmates. The highlight of the week was a drama written, directed and acted by the students themselves.

Tong Lee, 17, played the part of a pregnant mother with thalassaemia who unknowingly passes on the illness to her child.

'I had never heard of thalassaemia before I joined the ambassador programme. Now through the drama, I have experienced the confusion and guilt associated with the disease,' she said.

'I must have a medical check-up before I get married,' she added.

A radio drama, also prepared by the students, was broadcast to every class, after which students had to fill in a questionnaire on the disease. The class with the highest number of correct answers got a surprise gift.

A mini exhibition and video show provided by the foundation were set up during the week-long event.

'What I learn in school is inadequate. There isn't anything about thalassaemia in the curriculum. However, it is potentially dangerous to society because 8.5 per cent of Hong Kong people are carriers.

'It is essential to have a medical check-up before having children,' Lee said.

Thalassaemia was discovered in countries around the Mediterranean Sea, hence the prefix 'thala' - the Greek word for sea - indicating the place where the sickness originated.

Sally Yeung is a Young Post student reporter