Health & Environment

Health & Environment

The Online Hotbed for Illegal Drugs

Blue pills - the story ends, you wake up in your bed, believing whatever you want to believe. Red pills - you stay in Wonderland, knowing how deep the rabbit hole goes. Sixteen-year-old Amy chose a set of pills from Yanhee Hospital which promised “a safe and effective hallucination”. Convinced by the photos and videos posted by an online shop on Instagram, she paid $300 to buy this medication. “On the first day, I felt dizzy after taking the medicine. My heart was pounding very fast and I was always thirsty. I couldn’t fall asleep no matter how sleepy I was. The next day, I felt so weak as if I was floating. Eventually, I couldn’t take it anymore. I felt like dying,” Amy said. “I asked the shop owner why I was suffering through WhatsApp. The medicine had no disclaimer on its possible effects. The owner said everyone might react differently, and that I should quit if I was sick,” she added. Social media has become a hotbed for illegal drug trade. By law, substances used for medical purposes must  be registered with the Pharmacy and Poisons Board of Hong Kong before sale. But this is often not the case for medicine sold online. Between 2014 and 2016, there were  23 convictions linked to illegal drug sales on social media, according to the Drug Office. Common drugs offered on social media include those that promise to improve one’s appearance, such as breast enhancement or make you grow taller. They come under names such as Cosmoslim, Slim Perfect Legs and Yanhee. Input the keywords on Instagram and you get hundreds of posts of pills. Online drug sellers often claim there is no medication in their products and that they are approved by the foreign agencies. For example, an online post …

Health & Environment

Plastic free for marine creatures

  • 2017-04-22

The first thing Lin Guan Yi does in everyday morning is to open Facebook page and check orders for glass straws, yet she doesn't sell them for money. Instead, she sells glass straws for the turtles. Founded in 2016, 4theturtles aims for promoting glass straws to replace plastic straws. Lin, a financial manager, works part-timely for 4theturtles. This Taiwan-based environmentally friendly organization is encouraged by a popular YouTube video in which a turtle’s respiratory tract is inserted by a plastic straw. Plastic straws and stirrers, along with other plastic products, are listed as top ten categories of coastal floating litter, according to a report published by World Wide Fund (WWF) Hong Kong. Marine litter has become a hit topic in recent years. In Hong Kong, there’re at least more than ten non-profit organizations which have delivered this issue. Among them WWF Hong Kong plays a leading role. Started from 2014 by WWF Hong Kong, Costal Watch is a project providing a long-term resolution for marine litter. It focuses on analysing the importance of solving the marine litter problem and raising people’s awareness of being green in order to reduce litter at source. In “Costal Watch – Turning Tide Against Marine Litter”, its annual research report, WWF Hong Kong pointed out that plastic debris is a huge threat to marine ecosystems. The Coastal Watch team did surveys in cooperation with local fishing communities. They found that plastic debris makes up most of the marine litter found along Hong Kong shorelines. “The plastic debris could cause two problems. One is that marine creatures will be entangled by it. Another is that fish consumed plastic, which directly affects the health of the fish and the whole food chain, meaning that human health will be affected,” said Yeung Chung-wing, Project Manager of Coastal Watch. …

Health & Environment

Teenage binge drinking on the rise

  • 2016-12-02

Local research shows more teenagers, as young as eight years old, are drinking alcohol by Isabella Lo and Tiffany Lui Ammy Cheng Pui-lam, currently a university student in Hong Kong, was 12 years old the first time she got drunk. She was celebrating her primary school graduation at a friend’s home. Later she developed a drinking habit. She would go drinking two to three times a week. “My parents scolded me when they smelled alcohol on me at night, but who is not rebellious at that age?”, Ammy said with hoarse voice, which she believed is the result of frequent drinking. In some films, TV shows and advertisements, drinking is often portrayed as a thrilling social activity that cool people would do in glamorous situations. This kind of depiction has affected young people’s perception. “Drinking is a symbol of growing up, and we are enthusiastic to try,” said 20-year-old Ammy. In a report published by the Hong Kong Academy of Nursing, the earliest age at which local kids start drinking alcohol beverages is eight years old. At the meantime, one in 16 teenagers aged 18 to 24 are reported of alcohol abuse, according to the report. Shiu Ka-fai, legislator from the Liberal Party, said a liquor license is required for restaurants and bars to sell alcohol beverages. “If they sell alcohol to the underage, their license will be suspended. I think they are quite careful on this,” he said. He thinks it is inevitable that teenagers are mistakened as adults sometimes. “But I also see some responsible retailers that would question those who appear to be underage and demand to see their identity card,” said Mr Shiu, who is also a member of the Wholesale and Retail Task Force in the legislature. In Hong Kong, alcohol is believed to have …

Health & Environment

Sugary drinks tax: will it cut obesity?

  • 2016-11-30

Can the WHO’s idea of a tax on sugary drinks work in Hong Kong? by Tracy Zhang A group of primary school students were sitting around a table at McDonald’s in Kowloon City Plaza, enjoying their meal with sips of cola. “I drink cola every meal because I love it so much,” said a plump 12-year-old boy. In Hong Kong, almost all fast food restaurants provide cola and lemonade as their main beverages. Convenient stores and vending machines also display a variety of sugary drinks. The World Health Organization(WHO) released a report on October 11, stating that taxing sugary drinks can efficiently lower the consumption and reduce the rates of obesity, type 2 diabetes and tooth decay. Fiscal policies that raise the retail price of sugary drinks by 20 per cent or more would bring about proportional reductions in consumption of such products, according to the report titled “Fiscal policies for Diet and Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases”. Just days before, Hong Kong government was urged to implement WHO’s call to tax all sugary drinks in order to curb the rising rate of obesity. A survey from the Department of Health shows more than 46 per cent of people in Hong Kong are in the class of overweight or obese, with one in four primary school children being overweight. The rate is still climbing. According to WHO global estimates, 39 per cent of adults worldwide are overweight and the figure has more than doubled between 1980 to 2014. WHO suggests sugar-sweetened beverages are largely to blame for people getting overweight and catching diseases. The tax policies could be an effective device to tackle the problem. According to WHO global estimates, 39 per cent adults worldwide are overweight and the figure more than doubled from 1980 to 2014. “Overseas and local medical …

Health & Environment

Prevention of food allergies - turn foes to friends early on

  • 2016-11-12

A new remedy for food allergies by Crystal Tai When Kelly Tang Tsz-yu was just two years old, she took a spoonful of shrimp and shortly after that, her skin was covered with an itchy rash. Her mother Iris Tai Lok-man was terrified when she began to have breathing difficulties. Since then, her mother always makes sure that Kelly stays away from seafood, peanuts and other common allergens. Like many parents, she holds on to the belief that her child will be fine as long as she stops eating food that triggers an allergic reaction. But new findings show that adding peanuts and eggs to babies’ diets – rather than keeping them away, can cut the rates of allergies. An article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association this month, found that early introduction of allergenic food to infants, can reduce risk. The journal shows evidence that feeding peanuts to babies aged between 4 and 11 months,  can lower their chance of developing a peanut allergy. Further studies suggest that early introduction of other common allergens like eggs and fish,  was linked to fewer amount of allergies later on. The new approach to treating food allergies is in contrast with the research released around a decade ago.  At the time, the American Academy of Pediatrics asked kids to stay away from allergens until they were much older. Researchers concluded that there was a “moderate” certainty that putting food allergies in babies’ diets prevents the allergy from developing. Ms June Chan King Chi, Senior Dietitian at the Hong Kong Sanatorium and Hospital said that early introduction of allergens to children has been a heated topic in the UK and the US recently. She said between 2008 to 2015, 1,300 three-month old infants were regularly fed small portions of milk, …

Health & Environment

Healing with rhythm and melody

Music therapy helps children with autism by Daisy Lee In a room filled with playful and catchy melodies, Sam Lawrence sits beside an electric piano, moving along the rhythm played by his music therapist. There are no words but his body movements express the joy he finds. Sam has a chromosome abnormality, which has ose symptoms resembling those of autism spectrum disorder. His journey with music therapy began when his therapist discovered that he reacted positively with music.Once the therapist discovered that he reacted positively to music, his journey with music therapy started. Rona Grecia has been Sam’s nursemaid for almost 11 years. After accompanying him in the music therapy sessions for three years, she has seen observed that how music therapy has given Sam a chance to express himself.   Sam has a chromosome abnormality. His Ose symptoms resemble those of autism spectrum disorders. “He used to react slowly to (his) therapist’s music or instructions, but now I am impressed to see his improvement in interactions. He can even express what instruments and music he likes. Sam is calm and happy when he is with music,” she said. According to the American Music Therapy Association, music therapy designed for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is effective in improving their interpersonal and communication skills. Jockey Club Sarah Roe School offers in-house music therapy to children with special needs. “Children with autism always live in their own world. Music serves like a cue, which can bring their attention back into reality and make them feel connected to the real world,” said Joanne Wu, a music therapist at JCSRS. “For example, we always play ‘Hello Song’ when a session starts, which serves as a signal and converge (grabs) the children’s attention,” she said. Ms Wu added that music is a kind of …

Health & Environment

Plant-based Therapy helps students bloom

  • 2016-07-22

Horticultural Therapy can help with student suicides issue in Hong Kong By Susan Gao In a garden filled with colorful flowers and cheerful sounds of chirping birds, six students with dementia and depression are sitting on wheelchairs in front of a round table, touching their newly grown plants while listening to the therapist’s instruction. “Only in this one-hour therapy can I forget all the unhappy things,” said Wong Pui Shan, who has attended six therapy lessons. This is Horticultural Therapy, a new way of therapeutic treatment defined by American therapists as the engagement of a person in gardening and plant-based activities, facilitated by a trained therapist. “It is more than just gardening. The visual aesthetics of plants can elicit feelings of inner peace and generate positive emotions,” said Tam Sau-han, the General Affair Director of Hong Kong Association of Therapeutic Horticulture. “The therapy has become increasingly popular in Hong Kong due to the high social pressure.” Up to 23 students have committed suicides in Hong Kong since the start of academic year in September 2015, much more than the past years, according to the Hong Kong Jockey Club Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention. The registered horticultural therapist suggested that students nowadays face considerable stress and are more fragile. “The therapy can help remedy their mental health problems and alleviate their stress and depression,” Ms Tam said. Dr. Tong Wang-chi, an Honorary Consultant of Hong Kong Association of Therapeutic Horticulture, said researchers have found the therapy effective in treating developmental disabilities and mental illnesses such as depression and stress-related diseases. “People commit suicides mainly because of the feeling of worthiness”, said Dr. Tong, who is also a counseling psychologist of Adventist Hospital. “Plants is a favorable medium of treatment, which can help people regain self-esteem.” Ms Tam said the fact …

Health & Environment

Stretched to the limits

A shortage of nurses at public hospitals adds tension to patient care By Richelia Yeung & Tiffany Lui Public hospitals in Hong Kong serve 90 percent of all the patients in the territory, yet employs only 40 percent of doctors according to a report published by the Food and Health Bureau in 2015. Medical staff were pushed to their limits during a recent outbreak of influenza. Miss X, a registered nurse working in the orthopedics department of a public hospital, says medical staff feel like they are ‘fighting a war with no weapons ’. “As nurses, we want to provide a good care for the patients,” she says, “but the hospital is not giving us enough support, especially when it comes to manpower.” The nurse says there are only six nurses per shift taking care of more than 50 patients. Sometimes it is down to four or five nurses if someone falls ill. “We are lucky if the patients are all in stable conditions, otherwise we would be under a lot of psychological pressure if anything happens all of a sudden,” she said. The Association of Hong Kong Nursing Staff addressed an open letter to Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying in March. They said  medical staff is overworked. The nurse-to-patient ratio, they said, was 1:12, far exceeding the international standard of 1:6. “No matter which department it is, there are more patients during the influenza season,” says the nurse. “When one department is in need, others departments need to give a helping hand. There is a ripple effect.” She says Lunar New Year is the only time when they get some relief because it is taboo for Chinese people to go to hospital during the holiday. “Experienced staff quit their jobs in public hospitals and  work at private hospitals because they …

Health & Environment

Organic truth: are you getting what you pay for?

  • 2016-06-24

  by Celia Lai The Organic Standard and Certification System was introduced in Hong Kong 14 years ago. It is supposed to guarantee that organic products meet local standards. Vegetables labelled “organic”, for example,  cost $20 to $30 more per catty (604.8 gram) than regular produce. But many consumers remain sceptical. “ I heard in the news that not all organic shops are honest. They mix regular veggies with organic ones,” said Mr Chan Sze-Chi. Professor Wong Wun-Chung,  executive of Hong Kong Organic Resource Centre (HKORC), admitted that monitoring on the sale of organic vegetables in Hong Kong is inadequate. According to 2015 report by HKORC, wet markets in North, South, Eastern and Tsuen Wan Districts are the black spots for fake organic vegetables. More than 20% of the venders in each market sell vegetables labelled “organic”without certification. HKORC recommends that consumers buy organic produce  with their logo to ensure quality. Hong Kong Organic Resource Centre is the only organization that certifies local organic vegetables. They adopt international standards. Farmers and suppliers who reach the standard are given certificates so that they can use the HKORC logo on their produce. ”Our procedure is to certify farm operation. When the organic veggies get into the retail stores ready to be sold, that is another issue,” said Professor Wong. “For now, we can check if sellers abuse the certificate through their sales records. If farmers sell 10kg organic vegetables to retail A but our investigator is able to buy 20kg , then we know that the owner of the retail misuses our certificate.” Under the present procedure, certified organic vegetables can be sold either through the Vegetable Marketing Organisation (VMO), or by  local farmers themselves. “Before distributing the organic vegetables to chain stores such as PARKnSHOP and Aeon, they have to undergo …

Health & Environment

License to Thrill

  • 2016-06-24

  by Isabella Lo & Ellen He     A boy sustained head injury when playing on an indoor trampoline recently, according to the Consumer Council’s latest report. Unlike in the U.K., no license is required in Hong Kong for the operation of amusement park facilities. Trampolines are not a regulated "entertainment" activity under the Places of Public Entertainment Ordinance, according to the The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD). According to the Electrical and Mechanical Services Department (EMSD) that regulates amusement park rides, trampolines are not amusement rides since they are not power-driven. Amusement rides are devices that are power-driven for driving or riding by the public primarily for amusement purposes, such as roller coasters, Ferris wheels and pirate ships, according to the EMSD. The FEHD told the Consumer Council that relevant international sports associations, such as federations for trampolines, have already set standards on the proper use of sports facilities. Lack of licensing requirement is not the only regulatory loophole revealed from the 178 complaints received by the Consumer Council during the past three years. According to the Council, most complaints are about service quality and safety concerns of both indoor and outdoor activities. Some operators may use a "disclaimer" to evade liabilities, misleading consumers to give up their right to redress, said the consumer watchdog. In the case of the trampoline injury, the accompanying domestic helper was asked to sign a Term of Use agreement when she bought the admission ticket for the child. She recalled those terms as purported to exempt the operator from all legal liabilities, according to the council. “The Control of Exemption Clauses Ordinance clearly stated that the court will only enforce the operator’s exemption clauses when they are deemed fair and reasonable,” said Dr. Chan Wai-hon Felix, a law professor from the …