Mainland bans controversial gel used for breast enhancement
Vivian Wu and Patsy Moy
A cosmetic surgery gel widely used for breast enlargements was banned on the mainland by the central government yesterday after a rash of complaints and mounting public pressure.
But in Hong Kong, where the gel has been blamed for six women losing their breasts, the government would not say whether it would follow suit.
The State Food and Drug Administration, which supervises the production and sale of drug and medical equipment on the mainland, issued a public notice calling for an immediate halt to the production, sale and use of hydrophilic polyacrylamide gel after it found the substance was not safe.
The gel - more commonly known as PAAG - is estimated to have been used on more than 300,000 mainland women in cosmetic procedures including breast enlargement and nose alterations.
In Hong Kong, 119 women had told the Department of Health by last Wednesday they had received injections of PAAG to enlarge their breasts, with 51 reporting complications. This followed a warning by the Consumer Council three weeks ago about the dangers of the gel.
The Department of Health said yesterday it had been informed by the mainland authorities about the ban on PAAG but would not say whether it would follow suit.
It said it would keep track of importers and speed up the introduction of legislation that would limit its use to doctors.
Yesterday's ban mainly affects mainland firm Jilin Fuhua, China's sole producer and distributor of PAAG since 1999. It follows a public hearing held by the food and drug administration two weeks ago to solicit public opinion on whether the gel - marketed under the name Amazing Gel - should be banned.
After the hearing, a Jilin Fuhua spokesman insisted the gel was safe and that the company would continue to manufacture and sell it.
An administration source said the PAAG case was regarded a 'big public health issue which should be dealt with very carefully and with great attention'. The decision was made 'as an immediate measure to halt damage to consumers'.
Mainland law allows Jilin Fuhua to apply to the administration for a review within 60 days, or appeal to the courts within three months.
Andrew Burd, chief of the division of plastic and reconstructive surgery at Chinese University, said it was 'appropriate' for the Hong Kong government not to strictly follow the mainland's ban.
'It is really difficult [to ban PAAG]. PAAG is not just one product, but a whole group of different products', some of which had convincing safety records, he said. Complications may have been caused by the use of impure gel.
Henry Chan Hin-lee, a vice-president of the Association of Specialists in Dermatology, said Hong Kong should consider international standards and practice to determine limits on the use of PAAG.