Philanthropist Laura Chen has an ambitious goal. She wants to eradicate hepatitis B.
Chen, head of the Zeshan Foundation, a private philanthropy arm of the Chen family, which made its fortune as a property developer through the Hang Lung Group, is confident the goal is achievable, although it will take time.
'It is technically feasible. What makes eradicating hepatitis B so difficult is people and society. For example, some hepatitis B carriers may not realise they are carriers. But I am confident, with patience, the right education, through tests and vaccinations, I can reach the goal,' Chen said.
The foundation, established in 2003, followed on from the legacy of the Si Yuan Foundation, set up by her parents. The five Chen siblings make all major decisions together but, as executive chair, Laura Chen runs the day-to-day operations, which include reading through hundreds of submissions for funding.
Though the foundation mainly focuses on mainland philanthropic projects, such as sponsoring health, education, disaster relief and community rebuilding, it has been a big donor to Operation Santa Claus since 2005.
'Operation Santa Claus has scale and well-established tradition. It has been a major part of Hong Kong's philanthropy,' Chen said. 'Its beneficiaries are mainly the small charities that our foundation hasn't met. So by supporting Operation Santa Claus, we can help Hong Kong's smaller non-governmental organisations. I also like Operation Santa Claus' transparency.'
Operation Santa Claus is a holiday fund-raising appeal jointly organised by the South China Morning Post and RTHK.
Since being set up in 1988, the campaign has handed donations to more than 100 groups. Money raised this year will benefit 16 Hong Kong-based charities.
Chen said the Zeshan Foundation focused its mainland programmes where it could fill a policy gap.
Since 2005, it has made the effective control and eventual elimination of hepatitis B a long-term goal.
The number of hepatitis B carriers on the mainland is 100 times larger than the number of HIV carriers but government resources allocated to hepatitis B are only a fraction of those allocated to combatting Aids.
The foundation provides vaccinations to children who have missed out on government-funded injections. It pioneered a method to stop mothers from transmitting the disease to their babies. Its programme provides screening for pregnant women not just for the hepatitis B virus, but also HIV and syphilis.
The success of the programme prompted Beijing to carry out an 800 million yuan (HK$975 million) pilot project on testing to stop mother-to-child transmission.
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