kevin sinclair's hong kong

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 August, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 August, 2006, 12:00am

We've got some miserable, small-minded and downright nasty people in Hong Kong. They often seem propelled by jealousy of others or a determination that nothing in our city shall succeed.

Take the move to see former director of health Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chun elevated to head the World Health Organisation. What a marvellous endorsement of our public health system if the top authority on the planet was headed by a Hongkonger. Here, surely, is something that must be welcomed universally with an enormous burst of pride.

One would think so. But within minutes of the announcement that the government was going to send a senior civil servant to Geneva to help in this bid, we had the usual chorus of moans by the usual gloomy politicians.

Was it right that government should spend money on this, whined a legislative councillor of the democratic persuasion?

As often happens, it was the weasels in Broadcast Drive who raised the issue. Immediately the government announced that Estrella Cheung King-sing, a senior administrative officer, would be posted to Geneva to support Dr Chan's campaign, RTHK ferreted out one of their reliable rent-a-whiners to question the move. RTHK seems to delight in undermining anything positive about our city.

Everyone else in Hong Kong will rejoice. Dr Chan is a splendid advertisement for our community, a doctor who has devoted her career to public health.

She began her working life as a teacher. But she wanted to be a doctor and switched careers, going to Canada to study medicine. Dr Chan headed home in 1977 as a qualified doctor. The next year, she joined government as a medical and health officer. By 1994, she was director of medical and health. Dr Chan was in the medical hot seat during the bird flu panic of 1997 and the 104-day battle to contain Sars in 2003.

She was the first person on the global stage to warn about a strange type of influenza that in May 1997 killed a three-year-old boy. When laboratories in Hong Kong could not identify the disease, she sent tissue to overseas labs.

Dr Chan ordered the slaughter of 1.6 million birds that year after what had been identified as H5N1 leaped the barrier between birds and people and killed six Hongkongers.

This prompted WHO to create the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network which six years later helped combat the worldwide threat of Sars.

Two months after the Sars threat ebbed, Dr Chan retired from the civil service to accept the job as WHO's director for protection of the human environment.

Last year she was promoted to be head of communicable diseases; that puts her in charge of fighting the worldwide bird flu threat.

Although she is globally admired by her medical colleagues, Dr Chan was censured by the Legislative Council in the aftermath of Sars for not acting promptly to stop the disease.

Her Legco critics voted their displeasure with the benefit of 16 months of hindsight; Dr Chan had to act to save us with much more speed. Being censured by Legco is like being pelted with tofu; it doesn't hurt and leaves no stain.

Apart from a couple of gabbling clowns in Legco and their willing puppets in Broadcast Drive, most Hongkongers will view Dr Chan's nomination for the top health job with vast satisfaction.

Beijing nominated her for the job. The HK government is backing her campaign; there are five other international candidates.

Dr Chan has a campaign office at the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in Geneva. Government has seconded Estrella Cheung, a respected civil servant administrator, to help run the bid.

Nobody with half a brain can possibly quibble with this. The drive to see Dr Chan head WHO should be backed with total enthusiasm by all Hongkongers.

We should extend her our full support and it is both logical and desirable that government should provide her with all the skilled assistance she needs.

It's inconceivable to me that anyone can criticise this. But such is the childish, blinkered view of some critics that anything the government does must automatically come in for attack. Add the fact that Beijing put forward Dr Chan for the job and the impulse to condemn it is irresistible to some naysayers.

How foolish can you get?

Dr Chan is a credit to Hong Kong. With her experience in fighting Sars and bird flu, she has unique qualifications to head the world's premier health body. Everyone in the community should support her unequivocally and enthusiastically.

She deserves our full backing. Dr Chan is an eminent Hongkonger. The rest of us should bask proudly in her glory.