Centre persists with ‘toothless’ pharma codes

Compliance should be compulsory: experts

Published - February 07, 2020 03:13 am IST - NEW DELHI

The DoP has “requested companies to abide by UCPMP.”

The DoP has “requested companies to abide by UCPMP.”

Despite several instances of breach of the voluntary Uniform Code of Pharmaceutical Marketing Practices (UCPMP) by pharma companies, and the demand from the Indian Medical Association (IMA) and doctors to make it mandatory, the Department of Pharmaceuticals (DoP), which comes under the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers, has yet again “requested companies to abide by UCPMP” — in a written communication on February 4 — after the announcement of two more planned events.

In its letter, the Department has noted that it has “received a grievance alleging that pharma companies arrange hotels, accommodation in five star hotels, local sight-seeing, etc. in conferences conducted by doctors. Similar annual national conference of Indian Psychiatric Society 2020 will be conducted in Kolkata and in 2021 at Vishakhapatnam”.

“Pharma associations are requested to make sure that the pharma accompanies adhere to the provisions of UCPMP and no unethical promotion of pharma products be done during the conference,” concludes the letter.

Speaking about the move, health research and member of the All India Drug Action Network Malini Aisola noted that rather than taking steps towards instituting statutory regulation of unethical marketing and promotion, the DoP is still requesting companies to abide by a toothless, unenforceable UCPMP.

“Given that all stakeholders, now including various industry associations, the IMA and doctors bodies, civil society and patients groups are in agreement about bringing in a regulation, we cannot understand why the DoP is refusing to make compliance under the UCPMP compulsory,” she added.

Unethical marketing

Experts working in the area have long demanded that in the context of unethical marketing and promotion, the DoP should immediately implement a mandatory mechanism for company disclosures of payments towards doctors and professional bodies, including via third parties. The disclosures, which should be made at intervals and put in the public domain, should include the amount spent, individual or entity to which payment was made, and the reason for payment, including any services rendered.

The Alliance of Doctors for Ethical Healthcare (ADEH) has also demanded this.

“It is unfortunate that even after five years, the code remains voluntary. This is despite the fact that several medical organisations have demanded this repeatedly from the government. The global experience also shows that voluntary code does not work,”’ said ADEH member K.V. Babu.

According to Clause 7.2 of the UCPMP “companies or their associations/ representatives shall not extend any hospitality like hotel accommodation to healthcare practitioners and their family members under any pretext”.

“The implied meaning of this is that even extending benefits to the doctors through associations is unethical. But this is being flouted with impunity,” Mr. Babu added.

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