Gifts or favors to medical experts unethical; the other viewpoint

The government of India is about to act against doctors allegedly prescribing medicines, in return of things deemed as gifts or favors of drug companies. A recent news report in a leading news publication, TOI, quoted Ghulam Nabi Azad, the union health minister, as saying that they have received many complaints against this nexus, and the issue has already been passed to the Medical Council (MCI). The report has made following points:

  • The MCI received 702 complaints in 2011-12. 343 of them were referred to state medical councils. Registration of three such doctors has been temporarily removed. According to the minister, 168 of these complaints are being investigated. In 2010-11, MCI received 824 such complaints following which they cancelled the registration of 10 doctors, warning four others.
  • The minister added that the Uniform Code of Pharmaceutical Marketing Practices would be introduced soon. It makes some key recommendations like the term ‘safe’ cannot be used on a drug without qualification and it must be stated categorically that a medicine has no side-effects, toxic hazards or risk of addiction.
  • It mentions: “No gifts, pecuniary advantages or benefits in kind may be supplied, offered or promised to persons qualified to prescribe or supply by a pharmaceutical company. Gifts for the personal benefit of healthcare professionals (such as tickets to entertainment events) also are not be offered or provided.”
  • The report adds:”Companies must not organize meetings to coincide with sporting, entertainment or other leisure events. Venues that are renowned for their entertainment must not be used.Any hospitality offered to healthcare professionals must not be extended to spouses. Funding of healthcare professionals to compensate them for the time spent in attending the event is not permitted.”

On one hand, there is talk of unethical promotions, but gifting and incentivizing professionals, if done in the right spirit and context, can prove extremely beneficial is what we feel. Interestingly, people in the business say that of the Rs 1,500 crore plus corporate gift industry, the pharmaceutical industry contributes close to half.

Gifting as a practice has gained in prominence in terms of relationship building with clients, customers and employees. It entails a human touch and appreciation of service rendered or can be considered  as a thanksgiving gesture. Entirely banning it or construing it as illegal would be unfair!

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