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Health and health care in Hong Kong

From accessing health care services to watching the food you eat, there’s plenty to know about healthy living in Hong Kong.

Before setting off on your adventure it’s a good idea to check out the health advice given by your government. These websites will tell you which vaccines are essential and which are advisable.

Anyone travelling to Hong Kong will discover that many items that can be easily purchased over the counter in other countries require a prescription. Even products containing nicotine, such as e-cigarettes, need a prescription that shows it’s for your sole use — in Hong Kong, e-cigarettes are classified as a poison.

Hong Kong ranks second in Bloomberg's list of the most efficient health care systems in the world. There are an impressive 56 hospitals in Hong Kong: 44 public hospitals and 12 private medical centres. All governments recommend that expats take out international health insurance cover while living in Hong Kong. This ensures care will be available in the event of illness or any other type of health issue.

Air pollution is a problem in Hong Kong. In July 2016, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported that levels of nitrogen oxides in the air are 2.5 times higher than those recommended by the World Heath Authority. The rapid growth of car ownership is blamed for Hong Kong’s pollution problems. In 2016, the government introduced ‘a programme to reduce street-level pollution’ in an effort to tackle this growing concern.

Be careful what you eat

Eating street food is always fun, but as far as staying healthy is concerned it’s sensible to take a few precautions. Asian seafood may have been swimming in contaminated waters before reaching the markets, so find a supplier who has a certificate of hygiene, and shop with your head rather than your eyes. Or ask around and see which stalls and shops are the most popular. Tap water is considered safe.

Looking after your health

There are three levels of health care providers. Primary, for the treatment of basic ailments; secondary, which deals with conditions including minor operations, accident and emergency and some specialist services, and tertiary. Tertiary services cater for long-term health problems and those with more complicated conditions. Many private health care centres only offer primary and secondary health care. If you are in any doubt about the best hospital to visit for a specific ailment, call the Hong Kong Hospital Authority 24-hour information line on 2882 4866, where an English-speaking advisor will be able to help you. In an emergency, dial 999.

The Department of Health carries a list of all doctors that are registered to practise. If you’re at all unsure about your doctor, it may be an idea to refer to this list. Public hospital treatment is cheap but the downside is that you will have to endure long waiting times and, if you need a follow-up appointment, you won’t always see the same doctor. You must have a Hong Kong identity card, which you can obtain from the government’s Immigration Department, to attend a public treatment centre, and all transactions are paid for in cash. General consultations cost around HK$60; if you need to see a specialist, expect to pay HK$100.  Even if you don’t have an identity card, you can still attend a public/government hospital, but you’ll pay the market rate. Expect to pay HK$500 for an emergency visit, rather than the subsidised fee of HK$100.

It's always a good idea to consult your insurance company before visiting a private hospital to see if they have any recommendations. Most private hospitals are based on Hong Kong Island, and some even provide shuttle links between the ferry piers and respective train stations.2

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