Change in the air as Hong Kong health bureau bids to ban e-cigarettes and improve organ donation

In an exclusive interview with the Post, Undersecretary for Food and Health Professor Sophia Chan Siu-chee reveals the bureau’s goals in the final nine months of the current administration

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 August, 2016, 9:02am
UPDATED : Monday, 01 August, 2016, 9:30am

Improved organ donation, regulation of e-cigarettes and more assistance for breastfeeding mothers are top priorities in the next nine months, the health bureau’s No 2 has revealed.

In an exclusive interview with the South China Morning Post, Undersecretary for Food and Health Professor Sophia Chan Siu-chee said they were all on the agenda in the final months of the current administration.

Chan was speaking in the aftermath of a setback for the ­bureau, following the failure to ­reform the doctors’ watchdog, the Medical Council. The reform bid collapsed after a prolonged ­filibuster by medical sector lawmaker Dr Leung Ka-lau ran to the end of the final session of the Legislative Council.

“I was very disappointed ... but looking ahead, there is a lot more to be done,” she said.

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The campaign to promote ­organ donation aims to double the number of registered donors in Hong Kong to 400,000 in the next two years.

The current rate of organ ­donation in the city is among the lowest in the world, with only 5.8 donors for every million people in 2015 – suggesting at most a total of 42 donors, according to a recent Legislative Council study.

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As of June 30, some 2,500 people were still in queues for vital organs. Chan said the donation rate was far from satisfactory and vowed that the government would improve education and awareness of the situation.

A committee to promote ­organ donation, which Chan heads, was established in mid April and she said the government was planning a renewed push on the issue next month.

One suggestion was for the city to adopt an opt-out scheme, which would make all Hongkongers potential donors unless they gave specific instructions to the contrary.

But Chan, stressing the government was open to the idea, said a survey would be launched to gauge public opinion on the scheme, with a report to be made available by the end of the year.

The bureau is also determined to tighten regulations on e-cigarettes and is currently in talks with various government departments to look into banning their import and sale in Hong Kong.

Chan said a bill would be submitted on the matter in the next legislative term.

Reports had revealed children as young as six were among the users of e-cigarettes, a practice known as vaping, and she said that notices had been sent to schools warning them about the trend.

“This is very worrying as there are researchers suggesting that ­e-cigarettes contain harmful ­substances,” Chan said.

“And it seems the product is targeting young people.”

Meanwhile, with World Breastfeeding Week starting ­today, local hospitals and clinics have been bidding to be recognised as baby friendly health ­facilities – part of a breastfeeding initiative promoted by Unicef.

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Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Yau Ma Tei is set tobe the first hospital in the city to be officially awarded baby friendly status, while the Department of Health has also piloted breastfeeding friendly practices in three clinics.

In May, a Unicef survey ­revealed that Hong Kong was ­lagging when it came to providing family-friendly facilities.

Some 40 per cent of mothers in the city said they had an unpleasant experience while breastfeeding in a public place.

Other plans included a review on medical manpower and a ­proposal to reform the health ­insurance scheme, Chan said.