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Pharma Majors Offer Smartphones, Foreign Trips, E-Vouchers to Doctors to Push Products: Study

Newsclick Report |
Under the garb of ‘product promotion’, pharmaceutical companies are indulging in rampant unethical marketing practices, says a study by SATHI, flagging health safety concerns and calling for strict regulations.

New Delhi: Calling for stringent marketing regulations for pharmaceutical companies, a report by a health rights organisation has brought to light some startling aspects of the tactics deployed by these companies to put “tremendous pressure” on medical representatives to push their products in the market via doctors.

 “From high value gifts like smartphones costing ₹80,000, microwave ovens, tablets, silver items, gold jewellery to petro-cards, credit cards, e-vouchers for online shopping are trends in promotional practices among doctors,” the study said, as reported by Hindu Business Line. The study, which surveyed medical representatives across six cities, even suggested women being offered by some pharma companies, says a Times of India report.

In its report on pharmaceutical marketing practices, Support for Advocacy and Training to Health Initiatives or SATHI, which works on health rights issues through civil society partnerships, such marketing malpractices by pharma majors are rampant in India

What’s more, the medical representative respondents also disclosed that the pressure on them was “tremendous” adding to their stress levels as they were “tracked by their supervisors using iPads.”

Medical representatives also cited that only 10-20% doctors follow the MCI code of ethics, while in some cases doctors even demand “incentives” to push a product.

Noticeably, all this is happening even as the Union government still sits on a 2016 proposal to enforce a uniform marketing practices code for pharma companies, entailing stringent penalties.

“A year and a half ago, a draft of regulatory codes which was sent to Law Ministry to reign in unethical practices under Essential Commodities Act was rejected. Yet, the Ministry of Health in a reply to a Right of Information (RTI) report said that the draft was being discussed,” Amitava Guha, co-convenor of Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, told Hindu Business Line.

As per the SATHI report, medical representatives of not just allopathy, but even ayurvedic and homeopathic companies, reported being under massive pressure to meet high sales targets.

“Though the code of ethics of the Medical Council of India (MCI) bars doctors from accepting any gifts, cash, travel facilities or hospitality from pharma companies, there are no laws to deal with such corrupt marketing practices,” said the ToI report.

Raising a flag on such unethical marketing practices, the report pointed out the health threat posed to millions of unsuspecting people, who fall prey to irrational prescriptions pushing drugs that may be hazardous for health.

Highlighting how deeply ingrained such marketing malpractices by pharma companies are, the report cited medical representatives as saying that that company officials even monitor business generated by doctors on whom they have ‘invested’ money.

 The SATHI report also noted how pharma companies holding training workshops or sessions for medical representatives, focused more on salesmanship and ‘managing customer (doctors) relations’, instead of enhancing their technical knowledge about the product they are handling.

The report also noted a new trend – the  propaganda-cum-distribution companies these days float new entities that are franchisees of the pharma companies who buy drugs in bulk from manufacturers, give their own brand names and directly sell them to retailers and doctors at huge discounts and incentives including gifts, cash, hospitality and travel facilities, the HBL report said, citing the study.

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