The deadly threat facing elderly poor
Hong Kong may be one of the healthiest of Asia's crowded cities. But an ageing population and a growing rich-poor gap pose a new threat and sustain an old one.
The older one is to be found in the crowded cage homes and tiny partitioned flats that shame a wealthy place like our city. They have made Sham Shui Po the district with the highest incidence of tuberculosis, the once deadly disease spread through close contact.
The newer threat is to be found in crowded homes for the elderly, which have become a breeding ground for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, the most common of deadly drug-resistant 'superbugs'. A study by the Centre for Health Protection and the University of Hong Kong found that at least one in 20 residents of old people's homes carries MRSA. Since the elderly are both vulnerable to it and frequent users of hospitals, they can pass MRSA on to other hospital patients, and pass hospital-acquired MRSA on to fellow residents of homes. As a result,homes with poor infection control have become reservoirs of the bug and the CHP has been sending infection-control teams to train staff how to take care of carriers.
Though fewer people are contracting tuberculosis, it remains a major health problem in some regions, with several strains proving difficult to treat. As an Asian hub Hong Kong needs to stay vigilant, particularly as more people arrive from the mainland, where vaccination is not available.
Community organisations would like to see the provision of more low-cost public housing and rent subsidies, and development of the aged-care sector to ease the overcrowding behind these problems. The government has already promised to build 75,000 flats for low-income families in the next five years and has increased spending on aged care. It also has to consider other priorities. But care of the poor is a fundamental duty of any government. It also saves health care bills and means the public money saved can be put to other good uses.