India drags its feet on a marketing code for drug companies

Online and offline media have extensively covered the $3bn fine levied by the US government on UK’s GlaxoSmithKline for illegal and unethical marketing of a clutch of brands. See here.

Back in India, drug companies are apparently above reproach. It’s over a year since India’s department of pharmaceuticals (DoP) published a draft code of marketing practices for the drug industry. In the meantime, the government is relying on companies falling in line with voluntary codes written by various industry associations. Hardly any have been hauled up for violations.

Among other things, the draft code sought to restrict industry-sponsored continuous medical education events and drug trial meetings to within the country effectively barring foreign jamborees. It also sought to prevent such meetings from coinciding with sporting, entertainment or other leisure events or activities, and asked companies to maintain a detailed record of expenditure incurred on these events.

There were strictures placed on claims and comparisons made regarding drugs. Also, companies were expected to keep records of free samples given to doctors. See the story I wrote last year for The Economic Times here.

The code would be voluntary to begin with, said the DoP. But if companies did not fall in line, it would be made mandatory. The draft came on the heels of similarly stringent guidelines for doctors proposed by the Medical Council of India, a statutory body that governs the medical fraternity.

A year on, this draft code has yet to come into force.  ET’s Khomba Singh reports recently that the DoP intends to “meet drug makers next month” to discuss making the code mandatory. See here.

That’s a long way off from actually doing so.

The code holds promise. For a while it set the cat among the pigeons. In a survey of pharmaceutical executives by consultancy Ernst & Young immediately after the code was published last year, two-thirds felt it would change the way drug products are marketed in India.

But over half also felt that it would not be effective without “legislative” support. Basically, it has to be illegal to violate the code. Short of that, it is unlikely to work.

That a year has elapsed and the DoP is still in “discussion” mode is a cause for concern.  After all, a code is just the first step. Following its enforcement, the DoP will have to rigorously implement it, set up a system to investigate and handle complaints, and determine action against errant players.

The fact that it is still debating whether or not to make the code mandatory suggests a lack of serious intent to change the status quo.


One thought on “India drags its feet on a marketing code for drug companies

  1. The loose approach to the issue demonstrates utter callousness. Imposed regulations will never work in India and less we speak of self-regulation, the better. We get swayed by life-changing promises – not much happens beyond that. The chase on the Parliamentary Sub-committee report lambasting the CDSCO also faded with time.


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