Medical profession must come back to auditoriums and lecture halls of medical institutions from Banquet Halls of Five Star Hotels

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Medical Conferences and other academic activities
Medical profession must comeback
to auditoriums and lecture halls of
medical institutions from Banquet
Halls of Five Star Hotels

With over 40% of the population living below the
poverty line, who can ill afford drugs and medical
care, there seems little justification for such social
get-to-gathers’ at hotels all paid for by Pharma industry

CPSP shows the way & sets an example for conference
organizers & medical institutions to follow

By Shaukat Ali Jawaid

KARACHI: College of Physicians and Surgeons Pakistan has showed the way and set an example for the medical conference organizers and medical institutions by successfully holding its Golden Jubilee Celebrations at its campus which also attracted over two dozen eminent medical personalities from all over the world. All the CPSP Councilors including the President and some other distinguished Fellows of the College contributed one lac rupees each to generate funds and the balance will be used to establish a Skills Labs. The CPSP has managed to establish a dozen conference halls with varying seating capacity with the result that during the conference, numerous concurrent scientific sessions were held and they managed it successfully with their own resources. The newly created facilities in the Academic Block have built in state of the art audiovisual arrangements and so is the case with the old halls and the Burki Auditorium. Everything worked exceptionally well throughout the conference for which credit goes to the Council, members of the organizing committee as well as the Department of information technology for putting up such a wonderful show. CPSP was also lucky as it had enough funds because of manifold increase in the number of postgraduate trainees who pay fees for exam as well as for attending various workshops, courses but more important is the fact that it exercised financial discipline and eliminated corruption. Once corruption is eliminated from the top, it has its trickle down effect and things become much easier to control at the lower level as well.

Prof. Zafar Ullah Chaudhry President CPSP presenting a mementoe to
Prof. Kh. Saadiq Husain who was the chief guest at the Golden Jubilee
Conference held at Karachi on November 9th 2012.

The CPSP administration did not roam around the offices of pharmaceutical industry with a begging bowl; those who were interested to make some contribution willingly were welcome but no coercion methods were used to collect funds which has now become the norm with the medical conference organizers and the office bearers of some specialty organizations. In a country where over 40% of the population lives below the poverty line, majority of the people cannot afford medications and healthcare, there seems to be no justification whatsoever for holding such medical conferences and other academic activities at Five Star Hotels most of which can be termed as “Social Get-Together” with very little scientific value of course exceptions are there. All this is sponsored by the pharmaceutical trade and industry which then passes it on to the poor patients in the shape of high cost of drugs and medicines. Since many patients cannot afford it, it results in failure in patient’s compliance with therapy with its consequences and complications.
Time has come that conscious members of the medical profession should come forward and lead the campaign urging the doctor’s community to return back to the auditoriums and lecture halls of medical institutions from the Banquet Halls of Five Star Hotels for all such academic activities. Convention Halls and other meeting venues are now also available in almost all the major cities where such conferences can be organized at a much less cost. In case there are some security concerns, it can also be managed effectively. If in some exceptional cases, the meeting has to be organized at a hotel, let it be a scientific meeting attended by those interested in academics and not convert them to “social get-together for the families of the healthcare professionals” who enjoy these luxuries eventually to be paid for by the poor patients.
Najmuddin Auditorium is a beautiful gift by Prof. Emeritus Hasan Aziz to the JPMC built with funds raised through donations. It is now being regularly used not only by JPMC but also by other professional societies and institutions. We need more people like Prof. Hasan Aziz who can put up such facilities all over the country making the medical institutions self sufficient so that they do not have to look towards Five Star hotels for their meetings.
With no monitoring and accountability of any sort by any agency or the government, organizing a medical conference has also become a business for some in the medical profession. They come up with innovative ways of making quick money. Some time they book “Hotel Rooms” in advance through some of their friends, colleagues and business partners and then give it to others at a premium price. In one case, the organizer of a medical conference in Peshawar not only booked all the hotel rooms in the name of his brother but also booked all the Rest Houses in the city and then charged exorbitant price from the conference participants who were as usual all sponsored by the Pharma trade and industry.
Most often, there is very thin attendance in the scientific sessions but when the time comes for lunch, tea or at the Dinner, the number of guests increase manifold. And each lunch and dinner at these Five Star Hotels deprives a couple of poor patients of medications as the Pharma industry has to recover all this money which they spend on sponsoring lunches, dinners and stay of the delegates, speakers. At the recently held paediatric conference at Karachi, the number of people roaming around the stalls in the exhibition and in the hotel corridors with families was much more than those sitting inside the conference rooms. This is almost a routine at most of the medical conferences. Then there is a mad rush seen at the time of lunch and dinner with Mountains of food on plates, it gives the impression as if these “honourable members from elite in the society” has never taken any food for days.
Pharma trade and industry also seems to be fed up but since they are in a very vulnerable position, they cannot resist any pressure and coercive methods adopted by these conference organizers to generate funds and in many cases, these accounts are never audited. One of the arguments, most often put forward is that the industry has some funds for such academic activities and they do sponsor such activities all over the world but then there has to be some justification in its use. These funds meant for academic activities should be used for academic purposes and not for entertainment or lunches and dinners. Sponsoring the speakers at the conferences at home and aboard or even providing an opportunity to others to participate in these conferences is acceptable as it will eventually help improve patient care and the professional development of the participants as well but the way these funds extracted from the Pharma trade and industry are misused and abused must come to an end.
Financial assistance from the Pharma industry should be used to build auditoriums, lecture halls, libraries, improve wards, develop and expand the new or existing patient care facilities, providing scholarships or research grants to young researchers and sponsoring their short visits to centers of excellence at home and abroad for improving their professional skills. The medical profession must learn to live with dignity and respect but what is happening is that some “social dacoits” disguised as doctors are bringing a bad name to the entire medical profession which must be checked. The shining example set by CPSP of self supporting and sustainable functioning must be followed by all other medical institutions as well as specialty organizations. I remember once when I was a member of the organizing committee for a conference organized by Pakistan Society of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery, I asked Chairman of the organizing committee Prof.M. Jalisi that God Almighty has given him enough and he should lead the way by hosting a dinner for the delegates which he did. This encouraged other ENT Surgeons with the result that then Prof. S. H.Zaidi, Prof. Kamaludidn Khan in Karachi, Dr. Ali Muqudus in Lahore, and Prof. Mahmood Raza in Quetta all started hosting a dinner for the conference delegates during the annual ENT conferences. At times, there used to be dispute among the hosts as there were more than one host and every body did it happily and willingly.
By offering working lunch, simple tea at these conferences and other academic activities wherever they may be organized, one can also reduce the expenditures to a great extent and we have been doing it. We did it again at the 5th International Conference of Medical Journals organized by Pakistan Association of Medial Editors (PAME) held at Karachi in December 2010 which was also attended by thirty four foreign delegates which included WHO officials as well. National Bioethics Committee had formulated guidelines on Physicians interaction with Pharma Trade and Industry which covers all these issues including organization of medical conferences and other academic activities which were later approved by the Government and the PM&DC but it could not be implemented due to apathy of government agencies. Had it been accomplished, almost 80% of unethical medial practice and unethical marketing practices by the Pharma trade and industry would have been controlled and eliminated. However, it is futile to expect anything good from the incompetent, inefficient government. Any relief which the people of Pakistan these days get is through the Supreme Court of Pakistan and High Courts and it appears one day the superior judiciary might eventually have to issue a directive to the Government to get the NBC guidelines implemented.
Let us all do some soul searching, look at our behaviour and make necessary amends. Members of the medical profession which is a noble profession are quite capable of doing all that. Hence, let us all come back to the medical institutions and have some mercy on the less privileged people in Pakistan. Once the healthcare professionals start observing professional ethics, they will be in a much better position to point a finger at the unethical marketing practices being indulged in by the pharmaceutical trade and industry, convince them and with the cooperation of government functionaries ensure provision of drugs and health facilities which are affordable by majority of the population.