In the wake of the debate around unethical marketing practices allegedly adopted by pharmaceutical companies, the Department of Pharmaceuticals (DoP) has sent a directive to leading pharma associations in India to ensure that their members adhere to the Uniform Code for Pharmaceutical Marketing Practices (UCPMP).
The DoP has said it has received grievances that firms organise five-star hotel accommodation, local sightseeing, etc, in conferences that are conducted by doctors. It has, thus, requested associations to ensure that companies adhere to the UCPMP and that no “unethical” promotion of products is done during such conferences. The letter has been sent to leading industry bodies.
The DoP drafted the UCPMP has been voluntarily followed by drug firms since 2015. However, the code is not mandatory and there is no legislation that lays down norms for marketing practices.
Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance (IPA), which represents big domestic pharmaceutical firms, said it has asked all its members to abide by the UCPMP. Sudarshan Jain, IPA secretary general, said members (24 companies) wanted the government to make the code mandatory. “We only support science-driven activities and nothing else,” he said.
He, however, said there were around 10,000 pharma firms in India and unless the code was made mandatory, it wouldn’t be possible to ensure that all firms stick to it.
Meanwhile, the Organisation of Pharmaceutical Producers of India, which represents multinational drug firms in India, said it had a procedure to ensure that members stick to ethical practices. A Vaidheesh, OPPI president and managing director of GSK India, said OPPI members (25 firms) were signatories to the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA)’s code.
Vaidheesh said the code was very stringent. “Every company has compliance officers. Besides, if we get any complaint about any of our members not following the code, OPPI takes it up immediately. There is a five-member committee that meets to discuss the issue and there is also an appeal process,” Vaidheesh said. There are levels of disciplinary matrix, he said.
IFPMA code mandates a total ban on gifts, promotional items for prescription drugs.
Vaidheesh felt a quasi-judicial panel on the lines of the Advertising Standards Council of India should be formed to oversee the matter. It could have eminent personalities, including retired judges, apart from industry representatives.
An ombudsman programme is the need of the hour, the MNC lobby felt.
IDMA, which represents the small and mid-sized firms and has around 1,000 member companies, said the code has already been put up on their website for members to follow. “We have an ethics committee that will look into the matter,” said IDMA president Mahesh Doshi.
Healthcare activist Malini Aisola felt DoP needs to take steps to institute statutory regulation of unethical marketing and promotion. Aisola, co-convenor of the All India Drugs Action Network (AIDAN), said, “Given that all stakeholders now — various industry associations, Indian Medical Association, and doctors’ bodies, civil society and patients’ groups — are in agreement about bringing in a regulation, we cannot understand why DoP is refusing to do so.”
Aisola said the DoP should immediately implement a mandatory mechanism that ensures companies disclose payments towards doctors and professional bodies, including via third parties. “The disclosures, which should be made at intervals and put in public domain, should include the amount spent, individual or entity to which payment was made and the reason for payment including any services rendered,” Aisola added.-Business Standard