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Pharma companies in India bribed doctors with gifts and Freebies just for promoting their medicines recently reached the sessions of Lok Sabha.

New Delhi: When three Members of Parliament questioned the Minister of Chemicals and Fertilizers about the existence of such unethical practices as well as the steps taken by the government to curtail them, the issue of pharmaceutical companies engaging in unfair and unethical practices to promote their medicines by sponsoring trips and providing gifts to doctors recently reached the sessions of the Lok Sabha. The idea of making the Uniform Code for Pharmaceutical Marketing Practices (UCPMP) mandatory for pharmaceutical corporations was also questioned.

Raid on Micro Labs

This particular issue of pharma bribery to doctors via freebies and gifts has recently been in the spotlight with the recent raid on Micro Labs, makers of DOLO 650 tablets, and the further incriminating evidence found by the income tax sleuths implying an almost Rs 1000 crore pharma bribery scam using gifts and freebies.

Responding to the questions raised by the 3 MP namely, Shri Nalin Kumar Kateel, Shri D.K. Suresh, and Shri Patel Hasmukhbhai Somabhai, the Minister of Chemicals and Fertilizers Bhagwanth Khuba apprised about the steps taken by the Government to check such unfair and unethical practices.

The Minister informed that the Government has put in place a Uniform Code for Pharmaceutical Marketing Practices (UCPMP) for pharmaceutical companies, which is in operation since 01.01.2015, to prevent unethical practices by the pharmaceutical companies.

“This code governs the conduct of pharmaceutical companies in their marketing practices, duly covering the various aspects such as medical representatives, textual and audio-visual promotional materials, samples, gifts, etc. Further, the code establishes relationships with healthcare professionals, wherein the provisions related to travel facilities, hospitality, and cash or monetary grants to physicians or their families have been elaborated. The code also details the mode of operation of the code, the responsibilities of the Pharmaceutical Associations in constituting the Ethics Committee for Pharmaceutical Marketing Practices (ECPMP) for handling the complaints and Apex Ethics Committee for Pharmaceutical Marketing Practices (AECPMP) for review, the procedure of lodging a complaint, procedure of handling of complaints by the Pharmaceutical Associations and various penalty provisions,” the minister informed.

The Minister said further that the Complaints of violation of the voluntary UCPMP by pharma companies are forwarded to the concerned associations for taking necessary action. The code has been adopted by all the major associations of pharmaceutical companies and the Department in various instances has reviewed the implementation of the code by the pharmaceutical associations.

The Indian Medical Council (Professional Conduct, Etiquette and Ethics) Regulations, 2002, established under the Indian Medical Council Act, 1956 (102 of 1956), provides for conduct for doctors and professional associations of doctors in their relationships with the pharmaceutical and allied health sector industries. The minister also provided information on the governance structure. According to this, the respective State Medical Councils are responsible for handling any complaints of professional misconduct against a medical practitioner or other professional. In addition to UCPMP, there is a sufficient and enforceable legal framework in place to combat, regulate, and dissuade unethical marketing practices. Examples include the provisions of the Income Tax Act, the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, the Prevention of Corruption Act, and the “Indian Medical Council Professional Conduct, Etiquette and Ethics) Regulations, 2002” under the Indian Medical Council Act, 1956.
The Minister has made it clear that the Department has not received any representations from civil societies or patient groups requesting that the UCPMP code be made mandatory. He did, however, mention that the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India is currently reviewing the subject in the writ suit (Civil) No.323/2021 filed by the Federation of the Medical and Sales Representatives Associations of India & against Union of India and Others.

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