Intended for healthcare professionals

Head To Head

Are international medical conferences an outdated luxury the planet can’t afford? Yes

BMJ 2008; 336 doi: (Published 26 June 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;336:1466

International conferences: An ethical view point

I agree with most of the contributors views regarding the huge amount of money spent on these conferences at holiday resorts, most of which are repeats or mere updates. In addition to large sums being spent as well as environmental issues, there is an ethical aspect involved as well. As Dr. Sukumar Barik has elegently put it, "anybody can give a lecture but getting the sponsorship is the main aspect..." Sponsors (mostly pharmaceutical companies) would like the speakers to concentrate on their interests, highlighting products manufactured by that particular company. Payment of heavy amounts in the form of honoraria to these speakers also shift their loyalties towards a specific pharmaceutical company. Having attended many of these conferences myself, I sometimes feel that the speakers are behaving like Medical Representatives of a particular company rather than a distinguished speaker. In fact I have heard the same international speaker advocate one particular drug for a particular cancer in one conference and another one in another - because the first conference was sponsored by Company "A" while the second was sponsored by Company "B". Furthermore, participants sponsored by companies, specially from the developing countries, have to "repay" them by prescribing their products. That is where the whole question of professional ethics comes in.

By utilizing video conferences, we can save 90% of the costs and that will take care of unnecessary expenditure of money by pharmaceutical companies and the environment. We at Postgraduate Medical Institute, Khyber Medical University at Peshawar are investing in establishing videoconferencing facility so that we can play our role in providing access to latest knowledge without having to spend a fortune on honorarium and booking hotels at expensive resorts. I am sure others will follow suit to address the issues of money and time spent, environment and ethics.

Competing interests: None declared

Competing interests: No competing interests

09 July 2008
Abid Jameel
Assistant Professor Medical Oncology
Khyber Medical University, Peshawar (Pakistan)
Postgraduate Medical Institute