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Public healthcare stands wanting 15 years after SARS

Fifteen years ago, in March 2003, the outbreak of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), a serious form of pneumonia, claimed nearly 300 lives in the Hong Kong. With a concerted effort by medical staff and citizens, the deadly epidemic was brought under control. Many in Hong Kong still cherish the memories of sacrifices of medical staff who died on duty and the cleaning workers who performed their duties faithfully. 
Hong Kong has rebuilt its strength and vitality over the decade, but the public healthcare services still remains a concern. An increased demand for public healthcare services from people at the lower social strata and insufficient medical staffing levels require urgent governmental intervention. This scenario drew swpecial attention during the recent flu outbreak. Earlier, the Medical School Dean of the Chinese University bluntly compared the hospital wards to markets, the situation of which was similar to that in the 1980s.
Having learned lessons from the SARS epidemic, the public healthcare system needs to be reinforced to prevent another outbreak in future. However, the government, despite a huge fiscal surplus, seems unwilling to make a long-term commitment. The budget allocation for the Hospital Authority in the newly released budget is still lacking.
Earlier, a woman with a rare genetic disease said in the hearings of the Legislative Council that many patients, including herself, suffer from delayed treatment because they cannot afford effective, but expensive, medication. She died while waiting for her medicine. Other problems, including unduly long waiting times for specialist outpatient services at public hospitals have also caused distress.
While the social teaching of the Church stresses the principle of complementarity, it also expects governments to fulfill their obligations by safeguarding the basic rights of the disadvantaged, such as medical care. Archbishop Ivan Jurkovič, permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations and Other International Organisations in Geneva, pointed out in the Human Rights Council, “Working for a just distribution of the fruits of the earth and of human labour is not mere philanthropy. This is a moral obligation … to guarantee universal access to medicines, vaccines, diagnostics and medical devices.”
The recent discussions on healthcare reform have suggested the user pays principle and emphasised cost-effectiveness and returns. However, Pope Francis stresses that a state mustn’t expect to make a profit from medicine. On the contrary, there is no more important duty for a society than safeguarding the human person. He pointed out that neither the medical evidence and efficiency, nor the rules of healthcare systems and economic profit, can be the only criteria governing the actions of doctors.
In his Message for the World Day of the Sick released in February, the pope asserted that Church organisations aim not only for the provision of quality medical care, but also to put the human person at the centre of the healing process. Promoting the culture of life and compassion for is the way to respond to the challenges posed by medical care today. SE