Lesson for Hong Kong: caring for animals is vital to human health

Way Kuo says a better understanding of the interdependencies between the two will inspire us to care more for animal welfare

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 September, 2016, 4:46pm
UPDATED : Monday, 26 September, 2016, 7:07pm

Say anything about Hong Kong, but for all its faults – the air quality, high property prices or lack of space – you can never accuse it of being dull.

One thing still lacking, though, is an acknowledgement that animals are important in our lives. It’s not that Hong Kong has no capacity for love and compassion. But can we extend our compassion to animals? Can a city truly be called modern if it fails to appreciate the complex relationship between humans and animals?

City University’s plan to include food safety in a veterinary course could be good for Hong Kong

One of the aims at City University is to highlight how taking the lead in veterinary medicine can be a great boost to Hong Kong. Veterinary training can help combat zoonotic diseases (those that can spread between animals and humans). It can contribute to food safety, too, and enhance food production through aquaculture, the world’s fastest developing food source.

Around the world, a third of the global population has no access to electricity. Entrenched poverty and inequality mean billions have inadequate or no access to clean water, schools and medical care. Under such conditions, the likelihood that diseases such as severe acute respiratory syndrome and Zika will break out increases.

Legacy of Sars leaves Hong Kong better prepared for Ebola fight

As we recall from the Sars crisis in 2003, a disease can rapidly spread via animals and infect human populations living in “modern” cities, with tragic results.

In the years since Sars, Hong Kong has shown great leadership in human medicine, but we need more young people to train for careers in biomedical research, government, policymaking, caring for companion animals and enhancing food safety.

Our relationship with other creatures defines who we are as humans

But, here’s the catch: Hong Kong is not a city that innovates. And it especially does not have a strong record in recognising that the natural environment is fundamental to our identity.

This is our loss because our relationship with other creatures defines who we are as humans. I don’t mean all Hongkongers should own pets. Rather, I am talking about creating an inclusive relationship between medical doctors and veterinarians, given the interdependency between humans and animals. I am talking about understanding zoonotic diseases that threaten our safety and prosperity. I am talking about food safety and public health.

Over the next few days, an international conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, will be coordinating responses to the problems facing the natural world today. I hope that Hong Kong will host such events in future.

Professor Way Kuo is president of City University of Hong Kong. The article is based on his speech at the launch this month of CityU’s new six-year bachelor of veterinary medicine programme