A lack of regulation has allowed the lines between medical, health and beauty treatments to be blurred in Hong Kong. That has created a dangerous situation, as four women given an experimental therapy that landed them in hospital in a serious condition well know. It is not the first time the safety of products has been questioned, nor until the government acts will it be the last. We should not have to wait for a death before we have protective rules and monitoring.
The treatment being sold by the DR health and beauty chain operated by Dr Stephen Chow Heung-wing for at least HK$50,000 is promoted as improving immunity against illness. Being tested by mainland doctors to fight cancer, it involves customers giving blood, cells being extracted and grown in a laboratory and then returned by transfusion. Dr Chow admitted when he faced the media at the weekend that there was no evidence that what he calls a "health therapy" works. He said the transfusions were given by doctors, although he did not know whether risks were explained by sales staff.
What is certain is that the government does not oversee any part of the treatment, just as with a breast enlargement gel still in use that six years ago led to at least six women having to have their breasts removed. At the time, it was banned in the US and shortly after outlawed by the mainland. There have long been concerns about insufficient rules on invasive procedures like Botox injections, widely available at beauty salons.
Contaminated blood rather than the procedure seems to be involved in the latest mishap. Dozens of other people have received the treatment and not suffered ill-effects. But that does not make the matter any less serious. A host of issues have been raised that need to be promptly dealt with. Foremost among them is what constitutes a medical procedure; whether experimental treatments should be allowed without the government's approval; who should be able to carry them out; whether they should be confined to hospitals and registered clinics in case there is a problem; and if people lacking expert knowledge and understanding should be able to sell and promote them.
In a perfect world, we would all have beauty and live a long, healthy life. In our free market, all manner of products are available that promise such ideals. It is the government's job to ensure that all are safe, no matter what their claims or whether they are actually effective.