Professional Ethics and
Pharmaceutical trade and industry all over the world sponsors medical conferences, seminars, symposia, training courses and workshops and many other academic activities which are all aimed at building the professional capacity of the healthcare professionals. It ultimately helps in not only improving the teaching, training, promoting research culture but also patient care. However, keeping in view the ground realities in every country, it is extremely important that utmost care should be taken to ensure judicious use of this financial assistance provided by the Pharma industry.
In this context it was heartening to note that at the 14th annual conference of Pakistan Endocrine Society meeting held at Islamabad the organizers made a clear distinction between the scientific programme and the corporate symposia. Not only that, Prof. Tasnim Ahsan and Prof. Abdul Jabbar before making their presentations made disclosures about conflict of interest and Dr. Abbas Raza while speaking at the Gala Dinner also mentioned about the thin line between ethics and unethical practices as regards the relationship of the physicians with the pharmaceutical industry. This shows that perhaps Pakistan Endocrine Society and its leadership is much more conscious as regards professional ethics as compared to many other professional specialty organizations in Pakistan which needs to be commended and appreciated. Let the PES take the lead and set an example and ensure that all the presenters at its conferences disclose their sponsorship before making any presentation. This is a routine in the civilized world. Members of the medical profession from Pakistan who go abroad to attend international conferences are aware of it but one does not know what prohibits them to start implementing these measures in Pakistan. Why they are afraid of it?
Even otherwise, ideally all such medical conferences and academic activities should be organized at auditoriums of medical institutions and lecture halls but it is not possible till the government makes arrangements to have such facilities at the medical institutions. Let the conscious members in the doctor’s community in particular the academic leaders prevail upon the authorities to make arrangements of having such facilities at the medical institutions all over the country. Secondly we can have multipurpose Convention Centers, Conference Halls and facilities for Workshops etc., in all major cities which can be acquired by the conference organizers from all the professions including the medical profession. Such an arrangement will be much more economical than holding such conferences at Five Star Hotels. We have such examples even in our region in countries like Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Let us not forget the fact that the Pharma trade and industry eventually passes it all to the poor patients in the shape of expensive drugs, medicines, instruments, equipment and procedures. Can a poor country like Pakistan afford all this? Each Lunch and Dinner at the Five Star Hotel deprives some poor patients of their medications. There are numerous studies which have showed that one of the most important reasons for failure to comply with drug therapy is cost of drugs which many of these patients cannot afford. Even in Pakistan Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital has set a unique tradition. Though it organizes its annual symposium at a Five Star Hotel but there is no free lunch, tea or Coffee. All this is made available for the symposium participants and they can buy tea, coffee, lunch at a bit subsidized rates. This is yet another wonderful example worth following by the conference organizers in Pakistan.
We need to make some short term and long term plans to find a solution. Till such time that our Governments wake up of their social responsibilities and allocate enough funding for health sector and medical institutions, the conference organizers can at least take some steps to minimize and reduce the conference expenditures. This is possible, feasible and practical and the National Bioethics Committee (NBC) Guidelines for Healthcare Professionals interaction with Pharma Trade and Industry is a very useful document in this regard.1 The financial assistance provided by the Pharma Trade and Industry if used judiciously can not only fund these academic activities but the funds saved can be utilized to arrange Free Drug Banks established at the public hospitals, provide scholarships to the postgraduates to undertake some research project, provide travel grants to juniors who cannot afford to attend such conference’s at their own. Conference organizers should refrain from making unreasonable demands from the Pharma Trade and Industry and ask for only reasonable financial assistance which is helpful in meeting the expenditures rather than indulging in the practice of Golden, Platinum and Silver sponsors which some conference organizers are doing to extract money from the industry. The emphasis at these conferences should remain on scientific contents and it should not give an impression of “social get-togethers with families”. In Pakistan it is not uncommon to see children and other family members of the doctors attending these events which increases the conference expenditures manifold, something which can be and should be avoided. Pakistan Endocrine Society being conscious of the professional ethics, can strive to enforce and implement all these measures gradually in a phased programme.
Tail Piece: Take your blinders off and start looking for new opportunities. The best way to succeed in the future is to create it.