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Healthy Skepticism Library item: 16927

Warning: This library includes all items relevant to health product marketing that we are aware of regardless of quality. Often we do not agree with all or part of the contents.


Publication type: news

Alexander J
Uniform Code on pharma marketing practices ineffective with no binding clause on cos 2009 Dec 11

Full text:

The proposed Uniform Code of Pharmaceutical Marketing Practices (UCMP), claimed to have been unanimously agreed by all prominent pharma bodies to discourage freebies to doctors but became a bone of contention between the associations, may not make any desired impact in curbing the existing unethical trade practices in this industry.

Voluntary by nature, the joint code presented at the meeting on Wednesday, will not be binding on the companies, though some associations like SME Pharma Industries Confederation have been pressing for some ‘legal teeth’ to arrest the unethical practices. Though organizations like Organisation of Pharmaceutical Producers of India (OPPI) had such a code for years, it did not bring in any desired effect as it was voluntary.

Besides, the new code, in principle, allows the companies to extend sponsorship, foreign travel and hospitality in the name of conferences, though it bans giving cash, gift certificates or personal gifts including music CDs, DVDs, other electronic items and sport and entertainment tickets. The code, if analysed carefully, allows the companies to continue such trade practices, if they want.

“Companies may sponsor healthcare professionals to attend events provided such sponsorship in accordance with the following requirements. The event complies with hospitality requirements in the code like sponsorship is limited to the payment of travel, meals, accommodation and registration fees. No payments are made to compensate healthcare professionals for time spent in attending the event,” according to the code.

The code also gives ample scope for the companies to circumvent the code in many ways as they can sponsor events. “Scientific and educational objectives: The purpose and focus of all symposia , congresses and other promotional, scientific or professionals meetings for healthcare professionals organized or sponsored by a company should be to inform them about products and or to provide scientific or educational information,” it says.

“No company may organize or sponsor an event for healthcare professionals (including sponsoring individuals to attend such event) that takes place outside of their home country unless it is appropriate and justified to do so from the logistical or security point of view. International scientific congresses and symposia that derive participants from many countries are therefore justified and permitted,” the code says about events involving foreign travel.

“Payments of reasonable fees and reimbursement of out-of-pocket expenses, including travel and accommodation, may be provided to healthcare professionals who are providing genuine services as speakers or presenters on the basis of a written understanding with the company at the event,” the code says about payment to the speakers.

About promotional aids and items of medical utility also, there are loopholes. “Promotional aids or reminder items may be provided to healthcare professionals and appropriate administrative staff, provided the gift is of minimal value and relevant to the practice. Items of medical utility may be offered or provided free of charge provided that such items are of modest value and are beneficial to the provision of medical services and for patient care. For a textbook or medical journal subscription of relevant specialty, this limit may extend depending on the type of book or journal,” it says.

On the flip side of implementation, as contented by SPIC and other associations, the codes just asks the industry associations ‘to encourage the members to adopt procedures to assure adherence to the code’. And the parent association is the ultimate authority to decide on the complaints made against its members and the maximum punishment can be just suspension or cancellation of the membership. But there is no dearth for organizations in the pharma sector also, as in the case of other industries, to shift the loyalties if a company is suspended.


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Far too large a section of the treatment of disease is to-day controlled by the big manufacturing pharmacists, who have enslaved us in a plausible pseudo-science...
The blind faith which some men have in medicines illustrates too often the greatest of all human capacities - the capacity for self deception...
Some one will say, Is this all your science has to tell us? Is this the outcome of decades of good clinical work, of patient study of the disease, of anxious trial in such good faith of so many drugs? Give us back the childlike trust of the fathers in antimony and in the lancet rather than this cold nihilism. Not at all! Let us accept the truth, however unpleasant it may be, and with the death rate staring us in the face, let us not be deceived with vain fancies...
we need a stern, iconoclastic spirit which leads, not to nihilism, but to an active skepticism - not the passive skepticism, born of despair, but the active skepticism born of a knowledge that recognizes its limitations and knows full well that only in this attitude of mind can true progress be made.
- William Osler 1909