From the President: Lunar New Year message

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WONCA is  big family: fellow members from different places of the world celebrate their New Year’s Day at different times. As a home-grown Chinese from Hong Kong, Lunar New Year (or Chinese New Year) is always my favourite festival.

The New Year’s Day usually falls on a day in late January or early February and we would put aside our busy work, business functions and appointments to spend time with families and friends. People stay at home for parties, one after another, and enjoy the ‘must have’ traditional Chinese food. My impression of Lunar New Year is filled with the taste of steamed carrot cakes and rice dumplings in ginger soup.

Many patients bring us sweets, chocolates and cookies. My clinic is always packed with their hampers and it takes my clinic’s colleagues a few weeks to savour all the treats. Our annual ritual is to pay a New Year visit to relatives and friends, and when we greet, we deliver our blessings to each other, (and these must be loud and clear). Among our older generation, the most common phrase we say is “Kung Hei Fat Choy”, which means “wish you a good fortune”. The new generation is getting more health conscious and many have changed their greeting to “wish you good health” or “as healthy as a dragon and strong as a horse”. This is a good change indeed, and shows that many of us realise that health is more important than wealth.

Lunar New Year is also the time that when our health care system is under great stress. As most government-run outpatient clinics here are closed during the long holiday, the public Accident and Emergency departments, that open their doors around the clock and all year, have become the last places for patients to turn to. Many elderly patients fall sick during the winter ’flu season and they pack the Accident and Emergency rooms. The result is that both health care workers and patients are unhappy - doctors are frustrated that emergency services are used for treating minor ailments, such as common colds and stomach upsets, while some patients complain that they have to wait for more than eight or even 12 hours to see a doctor.

This phenomenon illustrates how important a strong community-based primary care medical network is. Many other countries are facing the same problem - while governments are putting much resources into hospitals and specialist services, they spend far less on primary care and health prevention. Another problem for many health care systems, is the fragmentation due to the public and private sectors not collaborating and supporting each other well enough. The Lunar New Year situation in Hong Kong is a classic example, while many private doctors are on holiday, the over-stretched public outpatient system cannot support the surge situation.

We cannot expect doctors to work non-stop round the year - they have to rest as well and have families to take care of. We put emphasis on work-life balance. Nonetheless, services are in demand. In recent years, various private medical practice groups in Hong Kong are making effort to disseminate information to the public about doctors who keep their clinics open during holidays. Prevention is better than cure, and we are glad to see our government putting more resources into preventive measures such as promoting ’flu vaccinations in order to reduce cases during winter seasons. However, more planning and policies have to be in place when the demand for medical services is growing.

The World Health Organization has recently endorsed the Astana Declaration and again warned that health resources have been overwhelmingly focused on single disease interventions rather than strong, comprehensive health systems. Building on sustainable Primary Health Care is one of the key foundations to better health for all. WONCA is playing an important role for this message to be heard and policies to be carried out.

I wish you all good health and a Happy New Year. “Kung Hei Fat Choy”.

Donald Li
President of WONCA