Filipino helpers to be given measles immunity tests at Hong Kong airport in bid to stem further outbreak but some call the measure discriminatory
- Department of Health announces pilot service as Hong Kong records highest annual number of measles cases in a decade
- Vice-chairman of the Filipino Migrant Workers’ Union Eman Villanueva says move sends out very dangerous message
Hong Kong is to provide measles immunity tests for about 200 Filipino domestic helpers arriving in the city’s airport.
The Department of Health on Thursday announced a pilot service as concerns grew over a possible further measles outbreak in Hong Kong. The city has so far recorded 67 measles cases – the highest annual number in a decade.
“Through the pilot service, the [department] hopes to better grasp the overall immunity against measles among Filipino domestic helpers working in Hong Kong,” a department spokesman said. “Participants will be informed of the results individually and measles vaccinations will be provided to those who do not test positive for measles antibody.”
The scheme, which is voluntary, aims to provide blood tests to about 200 Filipino helpers who newly arrive or return to work in the city on selected dates.
The department said the tests would be provided from 9am to 1pm on April 30, May 2 and 7. Leaflets would be distributed at the gates of flights arriving from the Philippines and airlines operating flights from the Philippines had also been informed of the arrangement.
Eman Villanueva, vice-chairman of the Filipino Migrant Workers’ Union, said the measure was discriminatory.
“Singling out a specific group of people is very wrong,” Villanueva said.
“It sends a very dangerous message that all domestic workers from the Philippines are suspected of carrying measles.”
Infectious diseases expert Professor Ivan Hung Fan-ngai, of the University of Hong Kong, disagreed.
Filipinos formed the largest domestic helper group in the city, he said and the Philippines had suffered recent outbreaks.
He added people from different districts in the Philippines had different rates of measles vaccination and immunity, unlike in Hong Kong, where the vaccination rate was very high.
Hung believed the government would extend the pilot service to domestic helpers from other countries.
“[The service] will not only protect the helpers themselves, but also their employers and the children they are tending to,” Hung said.
The department also announced it would extend vaccine injection provision at the airport for staff born in 1967 or after, who had not received two doses of measles vaccination and who had not been infected with measles before.
The government introduced free measles vaccine injections citywide in 1967.
Those who had no laboratory evidence of a measles antibody would also be able to receive injections.
Previously, priority injections were provided to staff living with pregnant women or toddlers under a year old.
The new round of injections would last from April 29 to May 17.
Li Wing-foo, vice-chairman of the Staff and Workers Union of Hong Kong Civil Airlines, said he welcomed the move.
“We come in contact with many people from overseas every day. If we are all vaccinated, we can form a first line of defence and we won’t bring the disease into urban areas,” Li said.
According to the department, among about 60,000 employees at the airport, about 8,000 had received vaccinations during the previous round of injections, and 650 or so had received blood tests.