Developing Public Health Policies Based on Science: Dr. Leo Lui

Infection control is the discipline of using practical measures to prevent or stop the spread of infectious diseases. With the emergence of COVID-19, global healthcare teams have been responding around the clock to manage the evolving pandemic situations. In Hong Kong, Dr. Leo Lui, (MPH Part-time - Health Systems, Policy & Management, Class of 2020), Associate Consultant of the Infection Control Branch of the Centre for Health Protection, Department of Health has been working as vigilantly as ever. A Public Health practitioner with a clinical background, the doctor has gone from holding patients’ records a few years ago, to developing policies related to infection control for the community of Hong Kong today.

Dr. Lui’s career journey to his current role began with a strong desire to learn more about infectious diseases during his training as an internal medicine physician and later as a clinical microbiologist. “My vision further broadened during my encounter with infectious disease patients and microbes in the laboratory. After completion of fellowship training, I felt that working in the frontlines wouldn’t be enough to satisfy my curiosity. I became more interested in what happens behind the scenes on a societal level,” shared Dr. Lui.

With an attitude akin to his line of work, he did not simply “sit and wait for an epidemic” to realise his public health goals. Three years ago, driven by the passion to learn about the broader context of infectious disease control and public health medicine, he enrolled in the Master of Public Health (MPH) programme of The Chinese University of Hong Kong.

He chose Health Systems, Policy and Management for his MPH concentration, with a clear intent to build his community-facing skills and contribute towards shaping a more responsive and efficient healthcare system in Hong Kong.

Apart from the programme’s excellent faculty, Dr. Lui was drawn to The Chinese University of Hong Kong MPH programme for the relevance of its courses. “I did thorough research before applying to study here. I have compared several local and foreign programmes and consulted fellow doctors whom spoke highly of this programme. True enough, I found the courses to be well-balanced and highly connected to my goals. The workload was challenging yet manageable,” he added.

Focused on the management of healthcare systems, policies and delivery of health services for individuals and populations, his MPH concentration proved to be highly useful in his current role, where he often consults with peers in both Hospital Authority and Department of Health for risk management issues in infection control across both healthcare and non-healthcare settings. The skills he acquired enabled him to more effectively engage with stakeholders who are pivotal to implementing policies aimed at prevention of the spread of infectious diseases.

“My previous clinical training has been very helpful. In fact, knowledge on the underlying mechanism of the disease process, say, how infectious diseases are transmitted, is crucial to design effective prevention strategies. Since a large part of my work concerns the health professionals, a clinical background becomes an advantage as I can better understand the impact of policies on the patient care level and how to fine-tune these policies with greater precision to suit the changing needs,” added Dr. Lui.

“On the other hand, clinical knowledge alone is insufficient to excel in public health. In order to succeed in driving quality improvement changes across different sectors, an understanding of the system and the target group is the key,” he said. “The multidisciplinary curriculum of MPH helped me gain deeper insights into the connections and interactions between public and private health systems, different levels of care, as well as healthcare providers and clients. This knowledge is essential for effective communication with other policy-makers and promulgation of best practices to different target audience.

Furthermore, he turned his experience of participation in large-scale simulation exercises into his capstone thesis, analysing the characteristics of these public health efforts and highlighting their importance in strengthening the preparedness for emerging infectious diseases in Hong Kong.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Lui also noticed an increasing number of aspiring students expressing interest in his work at the Centre for Health Protection. “The observation is encouraging as it means the younger generations are recognizing the significant role of infection prevention and control in fighting against infectious diseases.”

Advising doctors like him who wish to contribute more and serve the community in the public health context, Dr. Lui emphasised that apart from a preferred clinical background, the passion to learn sets up the individual for success. “I think a person who is keen to advance in this area should actively learn how to approach problems from a broader perspective, while keeping in mind the basic principle of evidence-based medicine before they can develop meaningful public health policies with an impact,” he said.