Poor citizens' health problems

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 January, 2013, 3:31am

The findings of a University of Hong Kong study on health care for the poor ("Health of poor an urgent case", January 6) should provide Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying with some vital food for thought for his forthcoming policy address.

The study emphasised "a host of health problems" affecting poor people, especially the elderly, in our community.

Government statistics show that 73.7 per cent of people aged over 64 suffer from chronic health problems ("Over 25pc affected by chronic illness", January 8). Apart from hypertension mentioned in the HKU report, these problems include aches and pains that create mobility problems for patients, and respiratory illnesses. Diabetes and poor eyesight are other common health hazards that adversely affect their financial and social well-being.

While public hospitals and clinics provide good services at low cost, the waiting lists are long (a cataract operation still takes an average one year's queuing time), and deter the elderly poor from seeking help.

Chinese medicine, which is more expensive, is generally not included in public health care.

According to an Oxfam study, in the second quarter of 2012, some 17.6 per cent of Hong Kong people were living on the poverty line.

Most recipients of the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance scheme get meagre monthly cash aid of about HK$3,800. But after deducting rent, electricity, gas and telephone fees, an elderly single person gets only some HK$2,800, which is all spent on food, and medical expenses are out of the question.

Poverty is hard to bear. Poverty plus ill health become disastrous. Many low-income people often fight tooth and nail to stay alive while their health deteriorates.

It is ironic that people suffer a deplorable quality of life when the government has a huge surplus.

Some old folk, even those aged 70 and above, prefer making their own living by scavenging for rubbish and cardboard instead of accepting government assistance, just to retain their dignity.

It is said that Hong Kong's wealth gap has not affected the city's mortality and life expectancy rates, but that does not mean the rich-poor gap will not adversely affect these rates; we just haven't yet seen statistics showing a proven link.

The government should allocate more resources for the health and welfare of the poor. C.Y. Leung must urgently grasp the nettle before it is too late and tackle the city's poverty problems.

Patsy Leung, Mid-Levels