Fewer than half of 363 makers of proprietary Chinese medicine in Hong Kong have conditions good enough to gain full registration. And only seven factories have a certificate of good manufacturing practice, the internationally recognised standard for drug makers. As of June this year, 203 of the 363 makers of proprietary Chinese medicine still hold a transitional licence, while 160 have a full licence. The transitional licences are given to manufacturers that started their operations in Hong Kong before January 21, 2000. Those manufacturers need to satisfy a series of requirements to obtain a full licence, including having sanitary premises, a suitable environment regarding humidity, lighting, temperature and ventilation for manufacturing and storage areas, and adequate and suitable fittings and equipment. Assistant Director of Health Dr Amy Chiu Pui-yin said the department planned to vet all the manufacturers for full licences within two years. The department was pressed to speed up inspection of all the 500 manufacturers early this year after 11 of 153 Po Chai Pill samples were found to contain phenolphthalein, which can cause cancer, and sibutramine, which can cause blood pressure to rise. Chiu said the total number of factories dropped from 500 to 363 in the past seven months. Some factories shut down and some companies gave up some of their licences. Chiu said that some manufacturers had had their applications rejected because of their poor production environment. 'For example, we do not approve applicants who produce medicines in residential units. We don't think this is a suitable environment for making medicine,' she said. In March, six of the contaminated Po Chai Pill samples were taken from capsule packs and five from raw materials. The department also found that the manufacturer, Li Chung Shing Tong, knew of the pills' content after an internal test in January but did not report it to the government. The manufacturer has stopped the production of the capsule packs. The incident raised concerns over the safety of Chinese medicine in Hong Kong, including products that have been sold for a long time. Chiu said the department had asked Li Chung Shing Tong to improve its management. 'We find that the manufacturer's crisis management must be improved and we note that there was confusion in its recall exercise, and the Department of Health was not informed when the manufacturer launched its own recall.' Chiu said all manufacturers must inform the department of any recall and they should have comprehensive recall plans ready at all times. Society of Hospital Pharmacists vice-president William Chui Chun-ming said the manufacturing standards for Western and Chinese medicines should be the same.