Excerpts from a report by Rupali Mukherjee in TOI news dated Dec 23.
1. Doling out freebies, cruise tickets, paid vacations and sponsorship to educational conferences and seminars for doctors by pharmaceutical companies has been banned from January.
2. The government has woken up belatedly to curb unethical marketing practices of pharma companies by spelling out a uniform code of conduct for the industry. The code will be voluntary to start with, and kicks in from January 1. It will be reviewed after six months; if not implemented "effectively", the government will "consider"' making it mandatory, sources told TOI.
3. At present, the pharma industry follows a "self-regulatory'' code that curbs unethical sales promotion and marketing expenses, bans personal gifts, and all-expenses paid junkets for doctors and their families, but there have been several instances where companies have violated the code, industry experts say. They say the code exists only on paper as companies try to influence prescriptions through several ways.
4. This is the first time in years that the code has been finalized by the government, as earlier attempts to do so got mired in bureaucratic red tape.
5. Industry experts say that the government's Uniform Code of Pharmaceutical Marketing Practices has been modelled on the Medical Council of India (MCI) guidelines for doctors and healthcare professionals, which were further tightened in 2012.
6. The code clarifies the relationship with healthcare professionals. Regarding gifts, it says "no gifts, pecuniary advantages, or benefits in kind may be supplied, offered or promised to persons qualified to prescribe or supply drugs, by a pharma company, or any of it agents including retailers, distributors or wholesalers".
7. It says "in any seminar, conference or meeting organized by a pharma company for promoting a drug or disseminating information, if a medical practitioner participates as a delegate, it will be on his/her own cost."
8. It further says that gifts for the personal benefit of healthcare professionals and family members (both immediate and extended) such as tickets to entertainment events are also not to be offered or provided by pharma companies, nor cash or monetary grants for individual purposes. Hospitality should also not be extended to any doctor or their family members.
9. The industry associations have to upload the Uniform Code on their websites and will be responsible for informing its members, and the government in case of violations.
10. The code also adds that "where there is any item missing, the code of MCI as per the Indian Medical Council (Professional Conduct, Etiquette and Ethics) Regulation, 2002 as amended from time to time, will prevail''.
eMedinewS Comments: Dr K K Aggarwal
• MCI code of ethics exists for doctors. Any violation can only be challenged in High Court.
• Pharma companies until now were affected for any violation in the Income Tax exemptions. Now pharma companies will also be governed by a similar ( like MCI) code of conduct.
• Unless both pharma and doctors group are covered in their respective code of conduct the problem will not be over. So far the MCI code did not cover pharma companies violating MCI regulations'
• It is same like, if doctors violate any MCI code they are punished under violation of MCI ethics regulations but same violations if done by medical establishments they are not punished. The need of the hour is to have uniform code of conduct for medical establishments' also.
• Another answer is to bring medical establishments and pharma companies also under the preview of MCI ethics regulations.