New domestic helpers coming to HK should be made to prove they are vaccinated against measles, health experts say

29-Mar-2019 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:00 AM Print This Post

New domestic helpers coming to Hong Kong should be required to prove they have been vaccinated against measles, two infectious disease experts said on Thursday.

Dr Ho Pak-leung, a top microbiologist from the University of Hong Kong, said the government must do more to make new arrivals prove immunity to the highly infectious disease, as efforts are made to prevent a wider outbreak. The number of cases reported in Hong Kong jumped to 30 on Wednesday already double the total number for the whole of 2018.

Secretary for Labour and Welfare Dr Law Chi-kwong said the Labour Department would contact helper hiring agencies, as well as the city’s Philippine and Indonesian consuls, to promote vaccination among new arrivals.

“We hope to try our best to provide assistance and particularly encourage domestic helpers to get vaccinated before coming to Hong Kong,” Law said.

But Ho called for tougher measures.

“The government will send letters to agencies [calling for vaccination proof] but it will not be mandatory,” he said. “The government should think about how to strengthen and include mandatory elements in this measure.”

Concerns have been raised that new arrivals could bring the disease from their home countries.

Figures from overseas health authorities show that so far this year, more than 23,000 measles cases have been recorded in the Philippines home for about half of Hong Kong’s 385,000 migrant domestic workers.

A measles vaccine in the private market costs HK$300 to HK$600. It’s impossible for [helpers] to afford

Dr Ho Pak-leung, HKU microbiologist

Ho said domestic helpers only earned about HK$4,000 per month and the government should help arrange vaccinations.

“A measles vaccine in the private market costs HK$300 to HK$600. It’s impossible for them to afford,” he said. “From a public health perspective, the government has a certain responsibility.”

But Law said the government would not consider subsidising helper vaccinations at this stage.

More measles cases likely to hit Hong Kong, disease expert warns

Dr Joseph Tsang Kay-yan, a specialist in infectious diseases, agreed the government should require people coming to Hong Kong for work or study to provide proof they were protected against measles. This proof could be in the form of a vaccination record or evidence showing protective antibodies against the disease.

“As we know the situation this time is linked to imported cases, the government should set up screening to require [foreigners] to provide proof,” Tsang said.

The authorities had not been vigilant enough, he added, as measles outbreaks had already been reported last year in countries including the Philippines.

Instead of coordinating vaccinations for domestic workers, Tsang said the government should urge employers themselves to ensure their helpers were protected against the disease.

“Employers are responsible for taking their helper to a family doctor for check-ups,” Tsang said.

He said the government should also ensure there was a sufficient supply of vaccines in the city.

Measles: a highly infectious disease returning to Hong Kong

But Eman Villanueva, a spokesman for the Asian Migrants’ Coordinating Body, worried workers would risk losing their jobs if the medical experts’ proposals were introduced.

He said some helpers might not be able to get proof and agencies might take advantage by demanding large sums of money to help.

“If the vaccination is to be given to workers in the Philippines, it should be free. The Hong Kong government should work with their Philippine counterparts on this,” Villanueva said.

“It will be even safer if they are given the vaccination upon arrival in Hong Kong.”

Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan Siu-chee will hold a press conference at 5pm on Thursday.


Category: Hong Kong

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