Prove that Pharma Companies bribe doctors or apologise: IMA to PMO
New Delhi: With various media reports suggesting that the Prime minister of the country, Shri Narendra Modi has pulled up multiple pharma companies on the issue of alleged bribery of doctors and the breach of ethical marketing practices; the Indian Medical Association (IMA) has written to the PM seeking clarification.
In its letter, the association has demanded proof from the Government if it had details in this regard or apologise if it failed to do so.
Medical Dialogues had recently reported that in a meeting held on 1st January 2020, the PM delved on the issue of unethical marketing practices in the pharma doctor relations. The meeting was attended by top executives from the industry including Mr Satish Reddy (Dr Reddy's), Mr Ajay Piramal (Piramal Group), Mr Pankaj Patel (Cadila Healthcare), Mr Dilip Shanghvi (Sun Pharma), Dr Habil Khorakiwala (Wockhardt), Dr Rajiv Modi, (Cadila Pharma), Mr Sudhir Mehta (Torrent), Mr Pavan Choudhary (MTAI) and Ms Shobana Kamineni (Apollo Hospitals). While several issues were discussed along with the future of the industry, Narendra Modi warned the drugmakers not to bribe doctors and adhere to marketing ethics reported the Print.
"The PM told drug-makers that their non-compliance with marketing practices is pushing the government to create a strict law. He has warned about bringing in a statutory provision, and indicated that the ministry (of chemicals and fertilisers) has been asked to start working on it," a senior government official told Print.
Now, responding to the media reports, the IMA has come forward demanding clarification on the PM Modi's assertion. Asking the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) to release the names of doctors convicted for this illegal activity, IMA in a statement issued by its National President Dr Rajan Sharma and Honorary General Secretary RV Ashokan voiced scepticism that the Government would be able to prove its allegations.
While expressing doubts whether the PM had actually made this statement, IMA sought clarification whether the reported meeting of the PM with top pharmaceutical companies in the national capital on January 2 did take place and authenticity of the news report. The letter stated:
"Reports have appeared in the media regarding the purported statement of Hon. Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi that top pharmaceutical companies bribed doctors with women. IMA takes strong exception to the statement if it has been really made by the Prime Minister. IMA seeks clarification from the office of the Prime Minister if such a meeting ever happened and if so the statement is authentic. IMA has noted that the PMO has not denied the report."
"IMA demands to know if the Government had details of the companies involved in supplying women to doctors why it chose to invite them for a meeting in PMO rather than initiate criminal Proceedings. Moreover, it is imperative on PMO now to release the names of doctors convicted or otherwise as well... IMA, however, is sceptical about the Government being able to prove these allegations. if the surmise of the Prime Minister is based on unverified information it is only appropriate that he apologises to the doctors of the country."
It also demanded that the State Medical Councils should initiate appropriate action if the doctors had been convicted on grounds of moral turpitude. The statement alleged that the purpose behind the charge was to divert the attention of people from unresolved health issues of the people and medical education in the country from the real issues in the health sector.
The IMA letter also stressed on the urgent need of government to address pressing issues of violence against doctors
Unethical Marketing Practices used by Pharmaceutical Companies
The issue of unethical marketing practices used by pharma to onboard doctors to prescribe their medicines is indeed a growing concern in today's times. Recently, a study which was conducted by NGO Support for Advocacy and Training to Health Initiatives (SATHI) pointed to regulatory failures by MCI in bringing curtail on doctor-pharma nexus.
As far as the legality stands, pharma freebies for doctors is against both the MCI ethics of doctors as well as the Uniform Code of Pharmaceuticals Marketing Practices (UCPMP)
As per the Indian Medical Council (Professional Conduct, Etiquette and Ethics) Regulation, 2002, doctors are mandatorily prohibited from taking gifts, travel facilities, hospitality and cash or monetary grants from pharmaceutical and allied health sector industry. The said regulation authorises the Medical Council of India (MCI) and respective State Medical Councils to award punishment to a doctor against any act in violation of the code of Ethics for doctors.
The similar regulations are mentioned on the pharma front in the Uniform Code of Pharmaceuticals Marketing Practices (UCPMP) 2017. However, unlike the MCI regulations, UCPMP is a voluntary code for pharmaceutical companies implying its violations could not bring any kind of punishment on the pharma companies.