India's department of pharmaceuticals is to meet with drug manufacturers on 18th July 2012 in order to discuss the prospect of making the country's drug marketing code mandatory.
The Economic Times reports that the meeting comes after Congress MP Jyoti Mirdha complained to the department that drug companies were not adhering to the code, designed to stop companies giving gifts and incentives to doctors to prescribe specific medicines, which was proposed in 2011.
Despite repeated criticism from health groups and sections of the pharmaceutical industry, the department of pharmaceuticals chose to make the uniform drug marketing code of conduct voluntary, resulting in officials labelling it as ineffective if not made compulsory.
The code itself prohibits pharmaceutical companies from offering gifts and benefits to physicians and suppliers, as well as banning the sponsoring of a doctor's travel, entertainment and leisure activities. Following criticism, the department claimed that it would make the code binding should companies continue to flout the regulations.
The practice of bribing physicians is claimed by industry executives to be a legacy of the Indian drug industry, with companies mostly selling different versions of the same drug under varying brands. As a result, pharmaceutical companies have been entertaining doctors in order to gain an advantage over rival drugs.
The matter is further complicated as drug makers are unable to advertise prescription drugs in the manner that consumer products are advertised, meaning sales are driven by prescription rates.
The system has been common in other pharmaceutical markets across the globe, however a mandatory code of conduct has seen several pharmaceutical companies such as Bristol-Myers Squibb hit with heavy fines.