The union Government appears to be hesitant in reining-in the pharmaceutical companies bribing doctors with foreign jaunts, expensive gifts and even cash to sell their drugs. During the previous government's tenure in 2011, a code on pharmaceutical marketing practices was announced, which never turned into a reality and this Government also had announced The Uniform Code of Pharmaceutical Marketing Practices (UCPMP) in January 2015, which the health activists apprehend would meet the same fate.
The code was to be made mandatory after six months. Instead, there have been four extensions, with the last one in September for an indefinite period.
Voluntary code was not working well
The code was drafted in consultation with all the stakeholders including the industry and was brought in on January 1, 2015. The Government announced that it was to be voluntary for six months, after which it was to be reviewed. In September 2015, the pharmaceuticals secretary admitted that government would make it compulsory as it was difficult to enforce as a voluntary code. In May and July this year, the minister informed Parliament that making code statutory would only help control unethical practices as the voluntary code was not working well.
Minister promised to make the code mandatory
Jan Swasthya Abhiyan (JSA), a national network of organisations working on public health had on July 29, this year, during a stakeholder meeting, submitted enough evidence of companies spending lakhs bribing doctors. In August, Tapan Sen, CPM Rajya Sabha member had giving instances of bribing by pharma companies in writing to the minister, Ananth Kumar, who had again promised that the code would be made mandatory soon. But it is still awaited.
Pressure from pharma lobby working?
“The government is stalling because of pressure from the pharma lobby. It was obvious right from the beginning that a voluntary code would not work. This is not the first time that the government has succumbed to pressure from the pharmaceutical industry ,“ said Amitava Guha of JSA.