Govt. planning to regulate funding by Pharma Trade and Industry for medical conferences, academic activities


Govt. planning to regulate funding
by Pharma Trade and Industry for
medical conferences, academic activities
Fed up with the ever increasing demands for funding
by the conference organizers, the industry has urged
the authorities to come to their rescue
National Bioethics Committee meeting may be
called next month to discuss these issues

ISLAMABAD: Fed up with the ever increasing demands for funding by the organizers of medical conferences, seminars and symposia, some representatives of the pharmaceutical trade and industry are reported to have approached the Government of Pakistan to come to their rescue. Hence, the authorities are planning to regulate these funding and a meeting of the National Bioethics Committee may be called next month to discuss this issue, it is reliably learnt. It may be mentioned here that every year billions of rupees are wasted at lunches, dinners and musical cultural programmes at Five Star Hotels by the conference organizers and all this is funded by the pharmaceutical trade and industry which eventually pass it on to the poor patients of Pakistan in the form of high cost of drugs and costly procedures, investigations.

The government is further learnt to have received reports that these conference organizers black mail, coerce the pharma trade and industry to extract huge finances in the form of Platinum, Gold, Silver sponsors, sponsoring lunches and dinners. Even they make money on selling the hotel rooms at twice the price as they first book the rooms and then the industry which sponsors the speakers and delegates are asked to get the rooms booked through the conference organizers, event management at double the price than what the industry pays to these hotels at the corporate rates which they have already negotiated.

What is more surprising is the fact that at times even the industry is forced to register delegates and pay for their registration which runs in thousands of rupees and many a times a large number of these registered delegates never come to the conference, their registration badges can be seen lying with the various pharma firms but the objective of the conference organizers is well served as they get the required funding. A vast majority of these conferences have very little scientific programme but they turn out to be social get togethers of the healthcare professionals with their families all paid for by the pharma industry. The profits of these conferences run into over a crore of rupees in some cases for each conference. The success of the conference is measures by the fact as to how many stalls the organizers have managed to book in the pharmaceutical Trade Exhibition and not the quality of scientific programme. For some healthcare professionals, organizing a conference has become money making business with no accountability or monitoring. Accounts of most of these conferences are never audited and if an enquiry is ordered, it will reveal many secrets.

Exceptions are always there. There are some professional specialty organizations who give special attention to the scientific programme and their objective is to build the professional capacity of the participants by inviting renowned guest speakers which then also attract lot of interested participants. However, in many conferences what is seen is that only very few participants are sitting in the scientific sessions while most others who come for socialization, and social networking can be found standing in the corridors or visiting the pharmaceutical exhibition collecting gifts or negotiating their next visit abroad with the industry representatives. The stall in the medical exhibition which some years ago used to cost between twenty to thirty thousand rupees now cost anywhere from five lac to fifty lacs. Some agencies, it is further learnt, have been collecting data about these conferences for some time which may be eventually used to hold the conference organizers accountable in the coming days.

Medical conferences and all other academic activities are sponsored by the pharma trade and industry the world over but there are some guidelines which are strictly followed and there is some built in accountability which is lacking in Pakistan. Conferences areas overseas are restricted to only registered delegates and participants, spouses and children are never allowed in the conference area. Professional ethics are adhered to and no drug banners, publicity material is allowed inside the conference halls but in Pakistan there is no such practice. The conferences most often present the environment of a Pharmaceutical Bazar and the number of representatives from the pharma trade and industry outnumber the actual conference participants. Some of the pharma firms do participate in such activities under compulsion with a view that it provides their representatives an opportunity to meet a large number of their potential prescribers at once place.

National Bioethics Committee (NBC) formed by the Government of Pakistan in 2003 had discussed these issues in detail and eventually came up with a comprehensive set of Guidelines which covers almost everything from sponsoring speakers and delegates to the conferences to funding for medical conferences and gifts, CME activities etc., which was not only approved by the Pakistan Medial & Dental Council but also by the Federal Health Ministry but as usual what happens in Pakistan, these guidelines were never implemented. The number of professional specialty organizations and interest groups in those disciplines which deal with chronic diseases wherein the patients need lifelong medications keep on increasing every day. There are large number of such bodies and groups in those disciplines and every one wish to have their own conferences and academic activities for which the pharma trade and industry is approached to provide the funding. There is intense activity during the elections of some of these professional bodies because those who eventually manage to get elected do enhance their nuisance value to black mail the pharma trade and industry for more personal favours which includes starting from expensive gifts to pleasure trips within the country and overseas sometimes accompanied by their spouses or entire family members. In fact the unethical healthcare professionals and the corrupt elements in the pharmaceutical trade and industry have joined hands to rob the poor patients of this country and this has been going on here for the last many years. Some of these unethical marketing practices were started by the Multinational companies but now some of the national pharmaceutical companies have overtaken them and it also reflects in manifold increase in their sales. MNCs now have numerous controls but no such inhibitions or problems are faced by the national pharmaceutical companies in the absence of any mechanism of monitoring and accountability. But still there are some pharmaceutical companies who not only believe but also strictly adhere to professional ethics and practice ethical marketing practices and they need to encouraged and commended.

The government it is learnt is likely to call a meeting of the National Bioethics Committee next month and might start policing the medical profession and the pharmaceutical industry since they have failed in self monitoring and self accountability. The repeated demands and requests from saner elements within the medical profession who have been speaking against these unethical practices have been constantly ignored and the corrupt elements within the medical profession have made them ineffective.

While on one hand all this goes on, there are some kind hearted God fearing healthcare professionals who even today organize all such meetings, academic activities in the auditoriums and conference halls of medical institutions instead Banquet Halls of Five Star Hotels. Even if they have to organize some meeting at a hotel due to security reasons, they do their best to minimize the conference expenditures as far as possible. Even in one case organizers of a medical conference is reported to have returned the money which they saved to the sponsors and the refund was based keeping in view their funding. This is something of a miracle which has happened for the first time in Pakistan. Some other physicians have managed to build auditoriums, lecture halls, seminar rooms or provided funding for research, scholarships to postgraduates using the funds they had saved from the conference budget or they had collected through donations from philanthropists.