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New marketing code for Indian drug companies favours the companies, critics say

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e7495 (Published 08 November 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e7495
  1. Mohuya Chaudhuri
  1. 1New Delhi

A new code of marketing practice for the drug industry is being drawn up by the Indian government aimed at stopping the provision of gifts to doctors by drug companies to promote their products.

It lays down that “No gifts, pecuniary advantages or benefits in kind may be supplied, offered or promised to persons qualified to prescribe or supply by a pharmaceutical company.” But it also says that “Companies may legitimately provide assistance that is directly related to the bona fide continuing education of the healthcare professionals.”

The code is being criticised for being biased in favour of the drug industry. Critics say that it allows drug companies too much influence over continuing medical education and is aimed at reversing the ban imposed by the Medical Council of India, in December 2009, prohibiting doctors from receiving drug company sponsorship for attending conferences, seminars, or scientific workshops.

Amitava Guha of the Federation of Medical Representatives Associations of India, says, “It is a voluntary code and has no legal teeth. The industry has a way of circumventing rules. In the absence of regulations, unethical practices will continue.”

However, proponents claim that the support of the pharmaceutical industry is essential for the future of continuing medical education and that such education is essential to keep doctors up to date. Praful Seth, vice president of the International Pharmaceutical Federation, said: “CME [continuing medical education] is practised across the world and is a must for better clinical evaluation. It allows doctors to learn not only about new drugs but also about the safety and side effects of drugs that are already in use. But it depends on how it is implemented. If implemented well, it can make a huge difference.”

But there is unease among doctors because many claim that the pharmaceutical industry did not respect the ban on gifts and sponsorship imposed by the Medical Council of India. Lucrative deals including foreign visits, funds, and gifts were offered to doctors, who in turn endorsed their brands. The Medical Council received 702 complaints about breaches in 2011-12 alone, on which action is being taken.

Some commentators think that the new code of practice will work if it is implemented rigorously. Leena Menghaney, India manager, Access Campaign, Médecins Sans Frontières, says, “The government cannot have a soft policy. A mandatory code must be put in place under which pharmaceutical companies which indulge in unethical practices must be penalized and doctors barred from practice.”

The health ministry, which is backing the Department of Pharmaceuticals, says the Uniform Code of Pharmaceutical Marketing Practices is expected to be introduced soon.

Notes

Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e7495