Leave research to medical schools, says vet chief

A new veterinary school would not be able to do much to control the transmission of animal diseases to humans, the outgoing chairman of the Veterinary Surgeons Board said.

Instead, having a veterinary institute in the city would benefit consumers by giving them a wider choice of service providers, Professor Wong Yuk-shan, a biochemist and the new chairman of the Consumer Council, told the South China Morning Post.

His view differs from that of Howard Wong Kai-hay, the life science programmes director of City University, who warned earlier that more animal-care experts and academic research was needed to cope with animalrelated diseases.

Amid controversy over the need for City University to set up a veterinary training centre in the city, the director said the new school was aimed at research and improving the expertise of veterinary surgeons.

Hong Kong is no stranger to animal-related diseases, having been stricken with bird flu, Sars and swine flu since 1997. It is now on alert in case the current H7N9 bird flu outbreak on the mainland spreads to the city.

Wong Yuk-shan said while having a school for vets could improve animal welfare and consumer rights, ˇ§even without a veterinary school, we already have the medical schools and teaching hospitals which have a lot of data to aid [disease control]ˇ¨.

Wong, who will step down as chairman of the Veterinary Surgeons Board in September, said it was mainly the job of medical schools rather than veterinary ones to do research on zoological viruses.

ˇ§Veterinary schools provide training to treat animals when they fall sick. But when we talk about viruses found in animals, the research is done by medical schools, so the existence of veterinary schools would not make much difference,ˇ¨ he said.

ˇ§Not all places have built a vet school. Many places like Singapore also do not have veterinary schools, but those places also have to tackle any outbreak [of animal-related diseases].

ˇ§It should be left to the Hong Kong government to consider whether it is worth building a vet school here, considering the huge investment.

ˇ§A vet school is very resource-consuming. Like treating humans, veterinary training involves a lot of different areas such as microbiology, physiology and pharmacology,ˇ¨ Wong said.

Regarding the spread of disease in light of the recent outbreak of H7N9 on the mainland, Wong said it would be impracticable to ban travellers from the mainland. ˇ§Not only would no one support a ban of mainland travellers, any disease can be so easily spread nowadays due to globalisation, which is something you can hardly control.ˇ¨

Wong, who is also vice-president of the University of Science and Technology, said his university was well equipped to handle any outbreak of H7N9.

He has experience in handling such situations, having led a control team during the Sars outbreak in 2003 when he was vice-president at City University.

ˇ§Once any member of [HKUST] contracts H7N9, we can immediately and transparently disclose any necessary information,ˇ¨ he said, adding that the university had set up an emergency management team.