The death of one of his employees from cervical cancer proved a turning point for hedge fund boss Seth Fischer, leading him to play a key role in establishing a foundation to prevent the disease in Hong Kong. Fischer first met Karen Leung in a job interview in Tokyo, when she applied for a job as his staff manager for the Japan and Hong Kong office. He hired her immediately, impressed by the smart and detail-oriented woman who went on to work with him for eight years, becoming a very good friend in the process. Her diagnosis in 2012 with cervical cancer, when she was aged just 34, took everyone who knew the energetic young woman by surprise. She died less than one year after her diagnosis. In the wake of her death, Fischer and Leung’s husband Waqas Khatri were both struck by the fact that the deadly female cancer is actually preventable. In memory of Karen, Fischer and Khatri founded the Karen Leung Foundation in 2012, which is the first non-government organisation in Hong Kong that focuses on raising awareness about cervical cancer, one of the most common cancers for women worldwide. “I never thought much about the issue before Karen got the disease,” Fischer said. “It turns out it is a cancer that is preventable, and the fact that people are not taking the preventive measures is shocking. “I also found out that the cervical cancer is extraordinarily widespread, and the vaccination rate is high in the many countries. But the rate is shockingly low in Hong Kong. That was when we began to think: how can we change that?” According to the Cancer Registry, it ranked as the seventh most common cancer among local women in 2013, with 503 new cases that year and 142 deaths. More than 99 per cent of the cases of the disease are caused by the contraction of human papillomavirus (HPV), a common sexually transmitted virus. While the viral infection may be easy to pass between people through skin-to-skin contact, there are at least two types of HPV vaccines on the market that protect against it. The vaccine is most effective when administered to young girls, around 11 to 12 years old, before they are sexually active. According to the World Health Organisation, about 50 countries have introduced HPV vaccinations to their immunisation programmes, but there is no such scheme in Hong Kong. Vaccination at private clinics cost about HK$3,000 per treatment, which includes three doses. The uptake rate in Hong Kong is less than 10 per cent, compared to more than 70 per cent in other countries such as US, UK, Canada and Australia where they have publicly funded vaccination programmes to ensure that the vaccine is affordable and accessible. The foundation, in collaboration with the Chinese University of Hong Kong, has so far offered free HPV vaccines to 12 primary schools in low-income districts. About 81 per cent of girls from these schools, aged between 9 and 11, agreed to be vaccinated. The community programme is likely to act as an important reference point for the government, as Chief Executive Leung Chung-ying announced in his Policy Address in January an intention to introduce a new scheme to subsidise HPV vaccinations for young women from low-income families. Details of the scheme have yet to be announced, but the foundation, with its experience in reaching out to the community, suggested the government adopt a school-based model similar to its own. Deprived young Hong Kong women to receive subsidised cervical cancer shots Fischer said the foundation supports the government’s work and believed it would be a good step to raise awareness of cervical cancer. “Our goal is to provide all girls with the choice of vaccination,” Fischer, who is also chief investment officer of financial company Oasis, said. “It is a very cost-effective way to save life.” As well as promoting prevention, the foundation organises regular fundraising activities to lead education projects to raise awareness of the disease. It also advocates early detection and optimal treatment of gynecological cancer, he said. Health is very important to the 44-year-old father and his wife Nealy, who have four children including an eight-year-old daughter. The family has been living in Hong Kong for 12 years and considers the city their home. Working in the financial sector is tough, but Fischer said he found the foundation work very rewarding. “We are very involved in the community. We benefit from it. That is why we are trying to do something good in Hong Kong,” Fischer said. “And there is no one else doing it.” Fischer’s commitment to healthy living extends to his personal life, where the enthusiastic road and trail runner is regularly seen on the podium at races across the region. His wife Nealy is also an active health advocate, and has pioneered several projects including luxury yoga retreats, cooking programmes and wellness courses. They feel compelled to contribute to the city, where the headquarters of Fischer’s company is located. “It was Karen’s wish that she wanted to help others. When we asked her what she wanted to do if she had more time, she said she wanted to help women so that they do not go through the same suffering. “We miss her all the time. In this way, her name lives on, in some way,” he said.