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HKU Centre for Medical Ethics and Law

Conference on Tackling Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR)

Welcome Speech for SFH

9 November 2017 (Thursday)

Prof Gabriel Leung (Dean, Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine),
Prof Michael Hor
(Dean, Faculty of Law),  Mr Terry Kaan (Co-Director, Centre for Medical Ethics and Law),   Dr Philip Beh (Co-Director, Centre for Medical Ethics and Law),  Prof Dame Sally Davies (Keynote Speaker, Chief Medical Officer, England), Prof Yuen Kwok-Yung (Session 1 Speaker, HKU),
Dr Howard Wong (Session 1 Speaker, City University of Hong Kong), Mr Jeremy Knox (Session 1 Speaker, Wellcome Trust),

Honourable Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

                   Good morning.  It gives me great pleasure to take part in the Conference on Tackling Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) organised by the Centre for Medical Ethics and Law of the Hong Kong University.

2.             AMR occurs when microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites change in ways that render the medications used to cure the infections they cause ineffective.  AMR is a global public health concern.   It results in reduced efficacy of antimicrobials, making the treatment of patients difficult, costly or even impossible.  The impact is felt particularly by vulnerable patients, as it can result in prolonged illness and increased mortality. 

3.             It is estimated by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development that about 700,000 deaths may be caused each year by AMR globally.  Morbidity and mortality caused by these resistant strains of microorganisms are estimated to be two to three times those of the non-resistant strains.  The healthcare and societal cost due to loss of productivity will also be much increased.  If no effective strategies are put in place, the death toll will exceed 10 million each year by 2050 and will cost the world over 100 trillion USD in lost output.

4.             Like many other developed economies, Hong Kong is experiencing a significant threat from AMR.  According to the statistics provided by the Department of Health, the number of cases notified to the Centre for Health Protection has increased five-fold in the past nine years, with approximately 1,000 reports annually in the recent three years.

5.             The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region has all along recognised the growing problem of AMR.  Different sectors have been implementing control measures with a common view to contain its spread.  To further strengthen our efforts for combatting AMR, the Government announced in the 2016 Policy Address the setting up of a High Level Steering Committee on AMR to formulate strategies in collaboration with the relevant sectors to tackle the threat.  The Committee chaired by me includes representatives from the Government, professional bodies in human and veterinary health, academia, as well as agricultural and food production sectors.

6.                The Government accepted the recommendations put forward by the Steering Committee and launched the Hong Kong Strategy and Action Plan on AMR in July 2017.  It sets out a 5-year Action Plan which guides the work of public health and veterinary partners, and coordinate efforts from all sectors from the community to combat AMR under the One Health Approach.  Such approach is based on the recognition that the health of humans is connected to that of animals and the environment and that AMR must be tackled at all three levels.

7.                Our action plan under the One Health Approach covers six key areas which focus on building and strengthening surveillance; optimizing the use of antibiotics in humans and animals; reducing infection through effective sanitation, hygiene and preventive measures; improving awareness and understanding of AMR; promoting research and, last but not least strengthening partnership and fostering engagement of stakeholders.

8.                As regards the key recommendations, we will further strengthen the regulation on over-the-counter purchase of prescription-only antibiotics. New guidelines on antibiotic use will soon be published for primary care doctors in consultation with field experts.  For the animal sector, proper use of antibiotics in animals will be ensured through tailor-made farm-specific disease management plans, education for farmers and vets on top of enhanced regulation of drug use in food animals. 

9.                Ladies and gentlemen, the battle line against AMR is both long and tough.  We need to seek collaboration not only from healthcare professionals but also from all sectors in our community such as academia, scientists, vets, food animal farmers, political parties, NGOs, and even our friends and family members who are key to the actualization and success of the Action Plan.

10.              The Conference on Tackling AMR provides an excellent platform through which local and overseas experts could gather together to discuss the challenges posed by AMR and seek effective solutions to the issues we face.   You may also notice that the coming week is the WHO World Antibiotics Awareness Week.   May I appeal to all of you to inform people around you to use antibiotics judiciously.  Always seek advice from professionals before using them.

11.              As the Secretary for Food and Health, to safeguard public health, provide quality medical services, ensure food safety and environmental hygiene will be top priorities on my health agenda.  My team and I will continue to work hard for the betterment of Hong Kong.  

12.   I wish the Conference every success in germinating new thoughts for the combat of AMR.  Thank you.