SCMP Wednesday, August 22, 2001

One in eight suffering from chronic disease


About one in eight people in Hong Kong receive long-term medical treatment for a chronic disease, a government survey has found.
According to the Census and Statistics Department, about 882,700 peoples or 13 per cent of the population require consultation or medication lasting at least six months. A separate survey found that there are 269,500 people with one or more disability, including sight, hearing or speech difficulties, restrictions on mobility, mental illness or autism.
The most common types of chronic disease in Hong Kong are high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease. Respiratory and digestive system diseases were fourth and fifth.
Michael Mak Kwok-fung, the legislator representing the health services sector, said: "My impression is that the health of the local population is quite all right in general.
"And considering that we're only spending around four per cent of our GDP in medical expenses, the performance of the health care system is pretty good."
He said it was impossible to make a wide-ranging comparison of the health of Hong Kong with other developed countries.
"We usually compare the infant mortality rate and the life expectancy with other countries, and Hong Kong is doing quite well in this regard," Mr Mak said.
He estimated that more than half the $40 billion devoted to public sector medical expenses was spent on chronic diseases.
Associate Psychiatry Professor of Chinese University Dr Lee Sing said the figure of 50,500 given as the number of people with mental illness was too low as minor mental illnesses had been excluded from the survey.
"It does not include the number of less severe mental illness patients, people with eating disorders or insomnia," he said.
According to his own surveys, about one million Hong Kong people suffer various degrees of mental illness. Hong Kong has only 200 psychiatrists.
"Mental illness is neglected by the Government; little money has been invested. The World Health Organisation has suggested that mental illness can lead to a huge burden," he said.
"[The number of local psychiatrists] just cannot cope with the number of patients. Also, people fear seeing the doctors because they don't want to be labelled as mental patients."
The surveys also found that nearly 80 per cent of the disabled were unemployed. Cheung Kin-fai, chairman of Rehabilitation Alliance Hong Kong, said: "I think the Government should look into the jobless problem of people with disabilities because it is very difficult for us to find a job now."
According to the Social Welfare Department, 111,880 peoplewith disabilities receive government allowances. A further 19,164 with temporary illness were claiming financial assistance as of the end of last month.