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Suzanne Ho: 'With my faith in God, I can be at peace', says health professional

Slow and steady wins the race in a career dedicated to improving health care for mid-life women, writes Nora Tong

 

Suzanne Ho Chan Sut-ying, Emeritus Professor of public health and primary care at the Chinese University (CUHK), has dedicated her career to the study of women's health and helping women achieve better physical, social and mental being.

"Health professionals should empower women to take responsibility for their own health," says Ho, founding director of the Centre of Research and Promotion of Women's Health at CUHK.

The centre's staff provide evidence-based services such as screen tests for women, running the first postgraduate programme in women's health studies in Hong Kong and hosting public talks. Its key members carry out research. A large-scale symposium was held last year to celebrate the centre's 10th anniversary.

A multidisciplinary approach is needed to understand women's health, Ho says. "For example, women in menopausal transition often face many problems. Physically, she is going through body adjustments to hormonal changes. Socially, she is often the caregiver of elderly family members whose health may be failing, while her social network is likely to be changing as her children grow up and her spouse retires. This may affect how she spends her time," she says.

Majoring in physiology, Ho switched to public health and trained in epidemiology - the distribution of disease and the determinants of health in different population groups. Her main research areas are women's health, ageing and the relationship between diet and diseases.

"The mid-life population is expanding fast. Three in 10 women belong to the age group of 45 to 64. If we can address the risk factors at or before menopause we can reduce the suffering of women and lessen the burden on the health service," says Ho, a founding member of Women's Initiative for Ageing Successfully.

Ho has written 19 books and chapters, and published more than 210 articles in international academic journals. In her study of osteoporosis, she observed that the average intake of calcium among Hong Kong women fell short of the recommended amount, and disseminated information on calcium requirement and the amount of calcium in different foodstuffs to the public. The result: many food producers have included fortified calcium in their products. Ho is also looking into the effects of soy on breast cancer survivors.

Teaching is another part of Ho's work and she enjoys supervising research projects. "It is rewarding to see students becoming serious researchers. Many of their thesis findings have been published in well-recognised international journals. A few of my PhD graduates are professors in the mainland."

With training in basic health science and epidemiology, Ho takes a broad view when tackling health questions. "I look at myself more as a turtle than a hare. I have to work very hard and be persistent in pursuing my goal. With my faith in God, I can be at peace and move on fairly quickly in times of doubts and disappointment," Ho says.

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