Harvard professor says private-driven US model may not be right for HK's predominantly government-run health system Hong Kong should develop its own centre for disease control and prevention, incorporating the best features of existing models in America and Britain, an international health policy expert says. But William Hsiao, a professor at Harvard University's department of health policy and management, stressed that the Atlanta-based Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the US was built on the country's private medical system, while Hong Kong's medical sector was predominantly a public operation. Professor Hsiao was speaking after the launch of a joint programme between the University of Hong Kong and Harvard University to help reform the mainland's rural health-care system, at the HKU's campus in Pokfulam yesterday. 'Hong Kong has to find its own special kind of CDC. The American CDC is built on a system in which medicine is delivered by the private sector. So Americans do not even get immunised by the public clinics and hospitals,' he said. 'That is why the US had to set up its very unique type of CDC which, however, is inappropriate for most countries which are more advanced than the US in taking care of public health, such as immunising children.' However, Professor Hsiao noted the strength of the American CDC with its comprehensive information-reporting system. 'So the CDC has some good points that Hong Kong can emulate. But as a whole, it is not appropriate [to copy] as it is based on private practitioners and markets.' He said the British model had an excellent system of public medical and health-care facilities similar to that of Hong Kong and was probably a more suitable example, although it was not as strong as the US model in terms of information gathering and research. 'So I always advise countries or territories to learn from the good points of other countries and move beyond [to develop their own], rather than just trying to copy the model. You can study other countries and benefit from their mistakes and also learn from their success,' he said. The Harvard professor said Hong Kong health authorities should collaborate with their mainland counterparts, which are investing heavily in research institutions. He said the joint work would also help control the spread of diseases across the border. 'Should Hong Kong build a big CDC? I question that because Hong Kong is a relatively small place. Hong Kong can build an independent CDC, but you should be careful about whether your CDC is trying to take care of everything or just specialise in something which is particular to Hong Kong.' He said Hong Kong might also consider hiring international medical personnel to help build and run its CDC. Professor Hsiao and his team have been commissioned by China, Taiwan, Cyprus, Mexico, Colombia and Sweden to assist in their health-care reforms. The Hong Kong government commissioned his team in 1997 to carry out a comprehensive review of the health-care system, amid the city's growing and ageing population with increasing aspirations for high-quality health-care services. In his 1999 report to the government, Professor Hsiao and his team warned that Hong Kong's health-care system was financially unsustainable. The report estimated that, without reform, health-care spending would take up as much as 23 per cent of the city's budget by 2016. Health officials rejected the report, saying it was an exaggeration to claim the health-care system was unsustainable.