On 21 June, Hong Kong’s new incoming leader, Carrie Lam, revealed her choice for the next Hong Kong cabinet. With a mix of new and old faces, Lam’s new cabinet of ministers is assuming office on 1 July.

Of all the appointments made, Professor Sophia Siu-Chee Chan, incoming Secretary of Food and Health, will be the only woman to serve in the cabinet.

Working towards the best interests of the public on health issues

Over the past five years, Chan has been working as the Undersecretary for the Food and Health department where she worked together with the current Secretary for Food and Health Dr Wing-Man Ko. Prior to working with the government, Chan was responsible for overseeing the School of Nursing at the University of Hong Kong where her job scope revolved around academia and research. This is entirely different from her role with the government, which focuses more on public health and policymaking.

Chan has played an active role in a wide range of issues during her time as the Undersecretary, such as promoting organ donations and encouraging breastfeeding. To prevent milk powder companies from exaggerating claims in order to persuade mothers to quit breastfeeding, she was determined to introduce a milk formula advertising code. For this, she has been to the Legislative Council several times to answer questions from lawmakers.

Chan’s another involvement was to call for tighter regulations on e-cigarettes. Citing various harmful substances within e-cigarettes, Chan has made a move to engage other government departments to explore the possibility of tightening regulations on e-cigarettes including banning their import and sale in Hong Kong.

“Of course governments cannot be too big – but it should not be too small as well”

With Chan stepping up to her new role, this would mean Ko – the most popular principal official with an approval rating of 72% according to a poll conducted by the University of Hong Kong – will be stepping down when his term ends. Since Ko was appointed in 2012, he had been undertaking various healthcare challenges preventing infectious diseases from spreading to Hong Kong and enforcing the controversial reform of the medical council.

Though, Ko is happy to step down and spend more time with his family and volunteer work. “First thing is I hope to return to the mountain areas on the mainland, to see the poverty alleviation and education work done by the Sowers Action and China Star Light Charity Fund,” he expressed. “As my personal interests are bird watching and stargazing – I am also preparing for that, such as buying telescopes.”

Speaking about the incoming government, Ko hoped that the new administration would introduce more policies to aid the grassroots populations stating “Of course governments cannot be too big, but it should not be too small as well. In some aspects it should achieve things.” For him, the most important thing the government has to achieve are policies that benefit the public especially when it comes to basic needs, such as healthcare and general livelihood.

For Chan, she admitted she missed her life back in the university when her focus was solely academia and research, five years since she entered office. Now, she faces an even bigger task ahead. As the incoming Secretary of Food and Health, Chan has to tackle various healthcare-related challenges that Hong Kong is already facing, namely the growing ageing population. Her laudable record of accomplishment is certainly reassuring – although, only time will tell how the new administration works out. MIMS

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