CUHK CGH Distinguished Lecture Series: Vision and Experience Sharing from Public Health England
In view of the continuous outbreaks of global health crises and the world’s attention towards the role of public health institutions in responding to the transnational threats, the Centre for Global Health (CGH) of the Jockey Club School of Public Health and Primary Care, The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) has invited Mr. Duncan Selbie, Chief Executive of Public Health England (PHE), and Professor Anthony Kessel, Director of International Public Health and Responsible Officer of PHE, as guest speakers to share PHE’s vision about public health and their experience in managing the recent Ebola crisis.
Public Health England is the foremost executive agency of the Department of Health in the United Kingdom (UK), dedicated to protecting and improving the nation’s health and reducing health inequalities in UK. According to Mr. Selbie, universal health service has been implemented in UK for 60 years. There are some extraordinary recent improvements in public health, for example, significant improvements in the number of cardiovascular disease cases and survival rate of aortic aneurysm, and 40% reduction in teenage pregnancy compared with 14 years ago.
Despite the huge amount of government spending on its healthcare system, the life expectancy in the UK has remained the same in the past 40 years. Mr. Selbie explained that it’is because people usually conflate good health with good healthcare and rely totally on the frontline healthcare (i.e. hospitals and public health services) for their good health. “Nevertheless, the life expectancy and good health has little to do with healthcare,” said Mr. Selbie. He pointed out that the three major factors affecting health of most adults were employment, economic prosperity and relationship with others (i.e. not being isolated). He argued that people should start taking another perspective when looking at public health issues, and PHE had been established to kick start this new conversation with the public.
PHE has been actively involved in handling various global health crises. Prof. Kessel described the role of PHE in responding to the current Ebola crisis in the affected Western African countries including Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. PHE has sent their laboratory staff to provide Ebola test for the locals and operate the mobile laboratories. Also, they are providing training to the laboratory volunteers before their deployment to the countries. Like most countries, UK has implemented entry screening measures at the main UK airports. They aim at raising public awareness of Ebola and reduce public skepticism toward travellers coming back from those countries.
As a neighbour of Africa, Asia has experienced many severe natural disasters and humanitarian crises in recent years. Prof. Emily Chan, Director of the Centre for Global Health and the Collaborating Centre for Oxford University and CUHK for Disaster and Medical Humanitarian Response, also shared in the seminar the Asian experience in dealing with emergency situations and highlighted some important factors which affected disaster management, such as leadership and governance, technology, expert involvement, financing, and policy making in order to encourage participants to further understand and reflect about the role of public health institutions.