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Health and wellness

Death of young eczema sufferer in Hong Kong shows how city has failed those who suffer from chronic skin conditions

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 July, 2018, 4:31pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 July, 2018, 10:57pm

I learned with horror that a 23-year old university graduate was found dead, along with her parents, in a possible murder-suicide after long suffering from eczema, and she had earlier blamed her parents for her condition (“Hong Kong couple and daughter found dead in possible murder-suicide”, June 18).

One in 10 patients with serious eczema become depressed, as pointed out by associate professor Celia Chan Hoi-yan of the University of Hong Kong (HKU) in your report of June 21 (“Don’t simplify causes of suicide”). The responsibility falls on academic institutions, practising doctors and patients themselves, especially parents, to tackle the disease from early childhood.

It is an utter anomaly that, in the 21st century, neither of Hong Kong’s two medical schools – one over 100 years old – has an academic department of dermatology. One has a research department, and skin clinics are a marriage of convenience as supplied by the government Social Hygiene clinics, where getting an appointment can take a year.

Dermatology, as a speciality, has traditionally been looked down upon, as “patients do not die”. In contrast, few medical schools in mainland China lack a dermatology department. HKU is renowned for its microbiology and research institutes, and endowed with a dozen professorships annually.

A few years ago, I had a meeting with Dr David Todd, the late doyen of medicine, and Dr Lee Shiu-hung – the late director of health who, upon retirement, became a professor of public health – with some senior members of HKU in attendance, to urge them to set up such a department, and skin clinics. Nothing whatsoever resulted.

Skin diseases specialist warns of ‘grossly inadequate’ services

Steroid creams and ointments can very well suppress the acute symptoms of intense itching, redness and swelling. Yet, they are much maligned by the general public and doctors alike. I have known badly affected children sitting up at night to scratch, with parents only trying to comfort them but refusing to use steroid creams and antihistamine tablets. This would amount to child cruelty, and why a 23-year-old would contemplate ending her life.

Suicide helplines in Hong Kong are available in English

The use of medication would require promotion to the public and to doctors. And what could be better than medical students being taught the subject properly at a medical school under a fundamental academic infrastructure?

At present, skin disease care in Hong Kong is grossly inadequate. I say this from having witnessed the medical scene in Hong Kong for over 50 years of speciality practice, as well as my experience of teaching at a mainland department of dermatology.

Dr Yip Shing Yiu, Central