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Hong Kong health care and hospitals

Safe sex still best way to avoid HIV infection, says top Hong Kong doctor as he questions He Jiankui’s claim of genetically edited babies being immune

  • Dr Kenny Chan says doctors already have ways of helping people avoid the virus that causes Aids
  • ‘I think we should adhere to those ways,’ he says
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 November, 2018, 6:05pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 November, 2018, 12:36pm

Hong Kong’s top HIV doctor has said safe sex remains the best way of avoiding infection by the virus that causes Aids, despite reports of the world’s first genetically modified babies being immune to it.

Dr Kenny Chan Chi-wai said he could not comment further on the controversial research by He Jiankui of the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, as there was limited information. The Shenzhen researcher was scheduled to speak on Wednesday at an international summit on gene editing at the University of Hong Kong.

Chan said on Tuesday: “HIV infection has happened for over three decades and then over the years, the medical community has found very effective and very safe ways to prevent it.

“I think we should adhere to those ways.”

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A spokesman for the Department of Health agreed there were public health interventions which were “safe and effective to prevent HIV transmission”.

He also questioned the merits of He’s research.

“An intervention or research seeking to modify the human genome may only be undertaken for preventive, diagnostic or therapeutic purposes and only if its aim is not to introduce any modification in the genome of any descendants,” he said.

The Centre for Health Protection reported 156 new HIV infections from July to September, similar to the same period last year. That took the total of reported HIV infections in the city to 9,543 since 1984.

Chan said that sex remained the major mode of HIV transmission in the city.

He urged men who have sex with men – who make up the bulk of the city’s cases – to wear condoms.

The 156 new cases comprised 133 males and 23 females. They included 83 infected via homosexual or bisexual contact, 29 via heterosexual contact and one by injecting drugs.

“Members of the public, particularly high-risk groups, should use the condom consistently and properly,” Chan said. “Those with a history of unsafe sex should take an HIV antibody test early.

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“People who use drugs should discontinue using drugs or receive methadone treatment instead. If injection of drugs is unavoidable, do use a disposable needle each and every time, and do not share or reuse needles.”

In a video posted online on Monday, He said he had given two babies immunity to HIV by disabling a gene called CCR5, which produces a protein that acts as a receptor for the virus, causing it to spread through the body.

His experiment was widely condemned by other Chinese scientists, who branded it “crazy” and “unethical”. More than 120 scientists in the country signed a letter condemning He.