For several decades Sri Lanka has not had a National Medicinal Drugs Policy, a National Health Policy or a charter of patients’ rights and responsibilities. As a result futile attempts have been made to restore a health service where the wellbeing of the patient is given top priority, and what we see to a large extent in the private health sector especially is a calamity where centres of healing have virtually been turned into dens of robbers.
Consumers International (CI), in a recent research study titled “Drugs, doctors and dinners”, has revealed shocking details of how patients, in developing countries including Sri Lanka, are being plundered and exploited by transnational drug companies and the medical business.
“I solemnly pledge to consecrate my life to the service of humanity; I will practise my profession with conscience and dignity; the health of my patient will be my first consideration”. This was the declaration adopted by the General Assembly of the World Medical Association at Geneva in 2006. Tragically the vocation or profession has now degenerated into a multimillion-rupee profit-making business in Sri Lanka with little by way of Government monitoring or regulation.
Member-governments of the World Health Assembly have been urged to enact new, or enforce existing legislation to ban inaccurate, misleading or unethical promotion of medicines, to monitor drug promotion, and to develop and implement programmes that will provide independent, non-promotional information on medicines. The report is based on a baseline study on unethical drug promotion conducted for CI by Dr. Peter Mansfield, Dr. Maneerat Layton and Joana Ramos at Healthy Skepticism (Australia).
Patients trust doctors to act in their best interests. However, most patients are largely unaware of the influence of the transnational pharmaceutical industry’s marketing on the very health professionals they rely on. Between 1995 and 2005, the percentage of total spending on sales and marketing was by far the biggest corporate expense for the pharmaceutical industry. The excesses of drug marketing are well recognised by industry insiders. A survey conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers showed 94% of industry stakeholders said that pharmaceutical companies spent too much money on advertising.
In the latest report CI highlights the marketing practices in emerging and developing economic markets by leaders in the pharmaceutical industry. Since direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA) is banned in most countries health professionals are the primary targets for the sales tactics of the drug companies. Consequently, the scope of the report focuses on doctor-directed promotion.
Patients in most developing countries are often at the mercy of unscrupulous doctors and drug companies. Competition to sell medicines in the loosely-regulated industry means doctors regularly medicate patients up to the eyeballs with drugs they do not need, at prices they need even less. However, the root of our problems too often lies not in an absence of laws, but in a failure to enforce them. Until these change, perhaps private hospitals and medical clinics should carry this warning notice. “Don’t get Sick”