Controversy Surrounds New Uniform Code For Pharmaceutical Marketing Practices

Controversy Surrounds New Uniform Code For Pharmaceutical Marketing Practices

Provisions of the updated code aimed at curbing unethical conduct, including restrictions on gifts, travel, and monetary incentives for doctors.

Swapnil MishraUpdated: Friday, March 22, 2024, 11:06 PM IST
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The government's introduction of a new Uniform Code for Pharmaceutical Marketing Practices (UCPMP) has sparked controversy, with critics accusing authorities of capitulating to pharmaceutical companies and allowing unethical practices to persist.

Under the purview of the Union chemicals and fertilisers ministry, the Department of Pharmaceuticals released the Uniform Code for Pharmaceutical Marketing Practices, 2024, as a revised version of its 2015 predecessor. Despite purported efforts to curb unethical conduct, sceptics argue that the code’s loopholes enable pharmaceutical firms to continue incentivising doctors in questionable ways.

Malini Aisola, representing the All India Drug Action Network, raised alarm bells over what she deems as the code’s glaring deficiencies, particularly its handling of arrangements for speakers at educational programmes. Critics fear that these provisions could still facilitate underhand dealings between drug companies and healthcare professionals.

The updated code ostensibly prohibits pharmaceutical companies from lavishing doctors with extravagant gifts, sponsoring their travel or hospitality, or providing monetary incentives to influence prescribing practices. However, detractors contend that the absence of robust enforcement mechanisms renders these guidelines toothless, allowing companies to skirt accountability with impunity.

Aisola underscored another glaring omission in the code – the lack of a mandate for public disclosure of payments to doctors for research support. This absence, she argues, compromises transparency and fosters a culture of opacity in the industry's dealings with healthcare professionals.

Meanwhile, the Alliance of Doctors for Ethical Healthcare (ADEH) has emerged as a vocal critic of the government’s approach, deriding the new marketing code as ineffectual and non-committal. Their stance reflects broader sentiments within the medical community, which advocates for legislative measures to comprehensively address the pervasive issue of unethical pharmaceutical marketing practices.

Dr Arun Gadre, a prominent figure within ADEH, condemned the government’s reliance on voluntary codes, characterising it as a capitulation to corporate interests at the expense of public health. He pointedly criticised the decision to involve pharmaceutical associations in the process without mandating compliance, describing it as a mere charade devoid of any real teeth.

The efficacy of the government’s latest initiative remains under intense scrutiny, with stakeholders across the spectrum calling for decisive action to hold pharmaceutical companies accountable and safeguard the integrity of healthcare delivery.

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