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UCPMP should be made mandatory without further delay: Experts

Highlight the lack of regulated and uniform system to ensure ethical sales and marketing practices

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Recently, D V Sadananda Gowda, Minister of Chemicals and Fertilizers, informed that the UCPMP is voluntary in nature and the Government has not yet decided to make it mandatory. This announcement did not go down well with patient activists and the medical fraternity.

Dr Babu KV, Founder Member, ADEH commented, “The Alliance of Doctors for Ethical Healthcare (ADEH) expresses its disappointment about the reply by Sadanada Gowda, the Minister of Chemicals and Fertilisers in the Parliament that there is no decision yet from the part of the Government to make the Uniform Code of Pharmaceutical Marketing Practices (UCPMP)  mandatory.”

He added that ADEH reiterates its earlier position of January 20, 2020, on the matter and demands that the UCPMP be made mandatory.

Babu said, “Pharma companies spend crores of rupees through associations by sponsoring medical conferences. They spend a huge amount on travel, accommodation and other expenditures on the doctors for lavish arrangements of the conferences. However, as per clause 7.2 of the UCPMP “companies or their associations/representatives shall not extend any hospitality like hotel accommodation to healthcare practitioners and their family members under any pretext”. The implied meaning of this is that even extending benefits to the doctors through associations is unethical. But this is being flouted with impunity. And unfortunately, the Medical Council of India (MCI) had amended the Indian Medical Council (Professional conduct, etiquette and Ethics) regulations, 2002 at its meeting on February 18, 2014, and exempted the “Professional Associations of Doctors” from the purview of Medical Ethics. There is an urgent need to take steps to reverse this amendment of the MCI and make the UCPMP mandatory.”

He informed, “Since corporate hospitals are not covered under this ethics, they take advantage and openly flout the ethics. They should also be brought under the MCI regulations on ethics. It is also equally important that any freebies from the pharma companies be made taxable. These were taxable earlier, but the decision was reversed later by the Pune Bench of the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal.”

Babu emphasised, “It is unfortunate that even after five years the code remains voluntary. This is despite the fact that several medical organisations have demanded this repeatedly from the government. The global experience also shows that voluntary code does not work. The Prime Minister, as published in a section of the media has warned pharma companies not to indulge in unethical practices and stop giving freebies to the doctors with a purpose to procure business. However, any such deliberations occurred in the meeting with the Prime Minister have been denied by the pharma companies and without these steps the Prime Minister’s statement will remain only rhetoric, particularly when the PMO has not clarified its position over the denial by the pharma companies about the prime minister’s warning.

Vivek Padgaonkar, Independent Healthcare Consultant Ex-Director OPPI, Ex GSK highlighted, “The implementation of the current code, which guides the sales and marketing practices, i.e. Uniform Code of Pharmaceuticals Marketing Practices, is voluntary, which has shown a varying level of implementation amongst various pharma companies. Today, there is the absence of a regulated and uniform ethical sales and marketing practices framework in the industry.”

He urged the authorities, “Our Drugs and Magical Remedies Act, 1954 controls the advertisement of drugs, while Drugs and Cosmetic Act, 1940 & Rules 1945  regulates import, manufacture, distribution and sale of drugs in India. India does not have a specific law that regulates sales promotion of the drugs by the pharma companies. Hence, it is necessary to bring the UCPMP mandatory, if not statutory under the ambit of Drugs and Cosmetic Act by making amendment in the rules,” Padgaonkar stressed.

Dr Jayesh Lele, Secretary, Hospital Board of India expressed, “The UCPMP guidelines was proposed around three to four years back, which have been put on hold, since it is voluntary in nature and not yet made mandatory. It is meant for pharma companies, whereas, for the healthcare workers, previously MCI and now NMC guidelines are in place, which guides to follow the ethical medical practice code. Our interest is for the patients’ benefit and we are bound to follow the same. The best ethical practices should prevail.”

The UCPMP code has been in place as a voluntary practice since 2015. An industry expert indicated that the government has given enough time for the industry to understand and implement it, and now the code should be made mandatory. If there are any reservations from the industry, then together (industry and government authorities) should find a solution.

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