Given the recent upsurge in cases amid the COVID-19 pandemic in Hong Kong, Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU) has established a transdisciplinary team of experts and supporting personnel to offer a free and integrated Chinese medicine prevention and treatment service, as well as emotional support resources to COVID patients, their close contacts and carers, with the aim of contributing to Hong Kong's fight against the pandemic.
While HKBU offers free Chinese medicine prevention and treatment consultations and emotional support resources, a generous donation pledge of HK$10 million from the Tencent Charity Foundation has enabled HKBU's School of Chinese Medicine (SCM) to provide and deliver free medicine to service users.
Transdisciplinary team offers medical and emotional support
The COVID-19 situation has got significantly worse since the beginning of the year, and Hong Kong's public health system has been under huge pressure as a large number of patients have sought urgent medical treatment.
In a densely populated environment full of many vulnerable people at high risk of infection (such as those in elderly homes), managing the disease outbreak is particularly challenging. Apart from urgent support for disease prevention and treatment, patients – as well as their carers and close contacts – are facing huge emotional distress.
Professor Alexander Wai, President and Vice-Chancellor of HKBU, said: "HKBU is devoted to advancing the frontier of Chinese medicine research, and the efficacy of Chinese medicine for the prevention and treatment of COVID-19 has been proven clinically. In view of the pandemic's development and in line with our caring spirit, the University has promptly assembled a Chinese medicine team to participate in the fight against the virus, with the hope of helping patients with urgent needs and alleviating the pressure on the public healthcare system. At the same time, our Department of Social Work is also offering an emotional support and counselling service in elderly homes to take care of the mental health of patients and staff. A number of university departments are also providing administrative support, with the aim of joining hands to tackle the COVID-19 challenge."
Free consultations and medication
HKBU's Chinese medicine team launched the "Free Online Consultation Service for COVID-19 Patients" in mid-February. It targets patients under quarantine in the community with no critical symptoms who do not require hospitalisation. Chinese medicine practitioners of HKBU will conduct consultations with patients through WhatsApp video-conferencing, prescribe medicine for them according to their clinical symptoms and body constitutions, and provide a medicine dispensing service. The consultation, medicine and delivery are free of charge.
Due to the overwhelming public demand for the service, the University has swiftly gathered together the resources needed to set up the HKBU Chinese Medicine Telemedicine Centre Against COVID-19 in two weeks' time as an integrated hub to handle appointments, consultations and drug delivery matters. A designated online platform was also constructed to facilitate public registration for the service. The online consultation service has so far served more than 8,000 patients, close contacts and carers, and it can serve up to 1,000 patients every day. Under the scheme, Chinese medicine practitioners of the HKBU Chinese medicine clinics have offered consultations to the public. HKBU is recruiting its Chinese medicine alumni to join the medical team in response to the keen demand for the service.
Special scheme for elderly homes
Due to the serious nature of the outbreaks in elderly homes, HKBU is cooperating with the Hong Kong Association of Gerontology to launch a special scheme which offers remote consultations and medicine delivery to the residents and staff members of accredited elderly homes. So far 64 elderly homes have decided to join the scheme. HKBU has been providing the same service to 30 elderly homes so far referred by the Hospital Authority. The service has also been offered to staff members of St. James' Settlement to help them maintain continuous services to around 5,200 home-based elders.
Furthermore, the elders and staff who are suffering from emotional distress due to the disease will be invited to join a mental health support service. The cases concerned will be referred to the Social Work Practice and Mental Health Centre of the Department of Social Work at HKBU. Volunteers who have been trained by the Centre will contact the cases by phone to provide emotional support or counselling. After the first over-the-phone mental health support session, volunteers will assess whether a second or even a third over-the-phone follow up counselling session is necessary. Launched in early March, the service will match the elders and staff in need with volunteers with phones.
Holistic service looks after physical and mental health
Professor Bian Zhaoxiang, Associate Vice-President (Chinese Medicine Development) and Director of the Clinical Division of SCM at HKBU, said that the participation of SCM in the treatment of COVID-19 will provide valuable experience and strengthen the role of Chinese medicine in Hong Kong's healthcare system.
He said: "By combining our clinical treatment observations and the experience of the Chinese medicine sector, and with reference to the Mainland's COVID-19 treatment protocol, SCM has compiled the "COVID-19 Chinese Medicine Diagnosis and Treatment Protocols for Hong Kong". It covers the Chinese medicine approach to the prevention of COVID-19, as well as the treatment and rehabilitation of patients with mild to moderate cases of the disease. We hope that the compilation of this protocol can standardise HKBU's clinical treatment for COVID-19, provide an operational reference for the Chinese medicine sector, and contribute to the adoption of Chinese medicine in terms of the prevention and treatment of emerging infectious diseases in the long run.?
Professor Daniel Lai, Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences and Chair Professor of the Department of Social Work at HKBU, pointed out that some people may experience emotional distress in view of the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic. He said: "Under the gloomy atmosphere of the COVID-19 upsurge, patients worry about their illnesses, and their carers and close contacts also encounter emotional distress due to the pressure of taking care of the patients and the imminent infection risk they face. This situation is common in elderly homes where there are widespread disease outbreaks. We hope to provide emotional counselling to participants of HKBU's Chinese medicine service who are in need, so that we can offer total care for their physical and mental health."
Tencent Charity Foundation provides full support
The fifth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic has presented Hong Kong with a huge challenge and overloaded its healthcare system. Many infected patients are waiting for medical treatment, and they feel helpless as they remain stuck in the community. In response to Hong Kong people's urgent needs, Tencent has donated HK$10 million through the Tencent Charity Foundation to HKBU. The donation will support the HKBU School of Chinese Medicine's efforts in the fight against the pandemic through the establishment of the "HKBU Chinese Medicine Team Against COVID-19". The team will be responsible for related prevention and treatment work, and they will offer an online Chinese medicine consultation service to the public with the hope of helping patients and close contacts in need.
Professor Wai said: "I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to the Tencent Charity Foundation for taking the initiative to render support. The fifth wave of the pandemic is very challenging, and the Foundation has taken swift action to support the Chinese medicine team of HKBU with regard to the provision of timely assistance to the community, in particular offering our care to the elderly, while relieving the burden on the public healthcare system."
The public can visit this website for the appointment details as well as the consultation and medicine delivery arrangements of the Free Online Consultation Service for COVID-19 Patients.
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