Feature Conflicts of Interest

India’s “health camps”: the drug rep will see you now

BMJ 2015; 351 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.h6413 (Published 02 December 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h6413
  1. Frederik Joelving, freelance journalist, Copenhagen, Denmark
  1. fcjoelving{at}gmail.com

Pharmaceutical sales representatives are screening people in India in return for prescriptions for their products while calling it corporate social responsibility. Frederik Joelving investigates

Muzzammil Khan, a chest specialist, runs “health camps” for poor people several times a month around Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. At one such event I attended in 2013 sales representatives and technicians from four Indian drug companies (Elder Pharmaceuticals, Ipca Laboratories, Biocon, and Lupin) screened Khan’s patients for heart problems, lung disease, diabetes, and other conditions.

“Without the companies, I wouldn’t be able to do all this,” Khan said.

The drug makers had brought an electrocardiograph, a spirometer, a bone density scanner, and a glucose meter to the camp. Afterwards, an invoice of sorts was lying on the floor. “Respected doctor,” it began, followed by a “request” to prescribe 13 drugs made by Lupin.

Prescription from the health camp

“It’s a little bit of, ‘You scratch my back, I scratch yours,’” explained Khan, who today has agreements with about a dozen drug companies that perform medical tests for him.

At the camp in 2013, Syed Raza, a technician and Ipca sales representative who regularly helps at Khan’s camps, did electrocardiography on about a third of the visitors. Raza told me that his services benefit patients and help him achieve his sales targets.

“I am conducting ECG camp, then doctor is prescribing my brand,” said Raza, who was promoting drugs for high blood pressure, including Tenorol (atenolol) and Tenoric (atenolol-chlortalidone). “This is the main purpose of this camp.”

Satish Yadav, a Biocon representative also at Khan’s camp, did blood sugar tests on dozens of patients. “If we make good relations with the doctors, then we will get business,” he said.

Satish Yadav at the health camp

Neither Ipca nor Elder returned requests for comment. …

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