ORAL contraceptives are to remain available over the counter in Hong Kong despite a report revealing some brands may double the chances of blood clots. Hong Kong Medical Association president Dr Lee Kin-hung said yesterday there was no need to restrict the pill's availability because Chinese women were less susceptible to blood clots of the type referred to in the report. Last week, a study by Britain's Committee on Safety of Medicines showed some oral contraceptive pills were twice as likely to cause clotting in blood vessels as other brands. The higher-risk brands contain two types of third-generation synthetic progestogen hormones called gestodene and desogest-rel. Four brands - Gynera, Minulet, Marvelon, and Mercilon - which contain the substances are freely available at pharmacies in Hong Kong for between $32 and $50 a packet. Dr Lee said contraceptive pills had been freely available in Hong Kong since the 1960s and any move to make them available by prescription only would jeopardise family planning efforts. At a press conference to allay women's fears, Dr Lee said Chinese women were less susceptible to clots forming in blood vessels than were Westerners on the pill. He said although there was no medical explanation, the incidence of Chinese women devel-oping blood clots was neglig-ible. Dr Lee said the number of Western women not on the pill who would develop blood clots each year was one or two in every 10,000. The numbers were three or four in 10,000 among those who were on the pill. However, Dr Lee reiterated the pill was safe and the most reliable form of contraception currently available. 'There are potential side effects such as tumours, weight gain, cholesterol-level changes, hypertension and strokes, but on the whole taking the pill is safe,' he said. Chinese women taking the brands linked to the report's findings should not consider changing their pill or stopping altogether. However, he advised Western women living in Hong Kong to consult their doctor and to ensure they had regular yearly medical examinations. 'After the age of 45, women taking the pill would have more harmful effects from hypertension, high cholesterol and stroke,' said Dr Lee. 'If the woman is also a smoker she should stop earlier, certainly before 40, because smoking increases the risk of these ill-effects.'