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Healing the Sick

A Letter from Judy Chan, Serving in Hong Kong

February 2019

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Dear Friends,

One of the most amazing things I have encountered in Hong Kong is the city’s health care system. For one, visiting a doctor is simple — just walk into a clinic, wait your turn, and pay $30-40 (USD) for consultation and medicine. Then, if you have more serious medical issues, you can go to one of 56 hospitals, some private and some public. Most of Hong Kong’s 7.3 million residents depend on the extensive network of 44 public hospitals and outpatient clinics. No wonder, for the level of care is excellent, and the cost is very low. When I was pregnant in Hong Kong almost 20 years ago, my doctor recommended that I deliver in a public hospital rather than a private one, even though I had health insurance. She said, “If anything goes wrong with you or the baby, you are better off in the public hospital. They have the best equipment because they’re funded by the government.” So, indeed, my son was safely born in Princess Margaret Hospital, delivered by a wonderful team of midwives. The total bill? Around $200 (USD). I think the price hasn’t changed that much since then.

A nurse prepares for a busy day in the operating room.

Of course, there is another price to be paid for such efficient and affordable health care. To put it simply, there are too many patients and not enough doctors, nurses and facilities. Recent hospital occupancy rates have been as high as 128% of capacity. Patient beds are regularly added to overflowing wards, including in the corridors. During the heavy winter flu season, non-urgent patients wait up to eight hours to see the doctor. Follow up visits to government clinics are sometimes scheduled as far as six months away. Wait times for an MRI scan could be as long as one year; the long waiting list for knee replacement surgery means your operation won’t happen for several years. Due to the overload, vulnerable groups such as the elderly and chronically ill are at risk of being denied the care they need.

How to solve the problem? The government and medical community recognize the situation is urgent, especially since Hong Kong’s elderly population is expected to increase in the coming decades. Training more doctors and nurses takes a long time, and demand is high. Meanwhile, more and more current doctors (including senior-level) are leaving the public system to go into private practice. Recently, both nurses and doctors staged protests with the Hospital Authority, begging for relief from punishing workloads. As they put it, “We don’t need more money in the system; we need more staff!”

Hospital notice of long waiting times due to overload of winter flu cases.

The Christian community has played an integral role in Hong Kong’s universal health care system. Medical service has been one of the significant areas of church mission for centuries. Early western medicine in the region was largely carried out by overseas missionary organizations, including pioneer doctors sent by the Presbyterian Church. Many of the hospitals today in Hong Kong are under the management of Christian bodies, both Protestant and Catholics. The Hong Kong Christian Council (HKCC) was a key partner in the establishment of two major public medical centers — Alice Ho Miu Ling Nethersole Hospital and the United Christian Medical Service. The Council’s Justice and Social Concern Committee monitors health care reform and advocates for equal access to basic medical care for all, including ethnic minorities and asylum seekers. May the church continue its mission of serving the community with a Christian heart by providing holistic care for the physical, emotional and spiritual well-being of every individual.

O God, You are the Great Physician, the healer of body, mind and soul. Continue to pour out your healing grace upon the sick and suffering so they may find relief from pain, recovery from illness, and peace in their hearts. May the Hong Kong government and medical community handle this critical problem with wisdom and resolve. May those serving and ministering in the medical sector be given strength to cope with the day’s demands. Just as Jesus must have been overwhelmed at times by the great crowds, may we draw upon divine compassion and power to transform broken lives through Your healing touch. Amen.

In Christ,

Judy Chan


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