India’s pharmaceutical industry has agreed to adhere to an enforced marketing code, which aims to stop the bribery of doctors in return for medicine prescriptions.
Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance secretary general D G Shah confirmed the agreement, telling PTI: "We have expressed our in-principle agreement for the enforcement of the code as the actions of a few companies have been blemishing the image of the entire pharmaceutical industry."
Shah also confirmed that the existing code, which is not mandatory, will be fine tuned in order to make it more practicable and implementable. Amendments made to the code include the possibility of an independent ombudsman to enforce the code, with industry bodies asked by India’s Department of Pharmaceuticals to return suggestions within a week.
As per the terms of the existing code, pharmaceutical companies are forbidden from directly or indirectly sponsoring the travel, entertainment or hospitality of doctors or their families.
The Department of Pharmaceuticals first implemented a marketing code last year in the wake of revelations that an increasing number of pharmaceutical companies were awarding doctors with incentives to prescribe specific medicines over rival drugs. The marketing code was, however, voluntary, with officials arguing that it should be made mandatory.
The Indian pharmaceutical market is flooded with generic copies of branded drugs, forcing pharmaceutical companies to gain advantages over competitors to gain prescriptions. Members within the pharmaceutical industry have argued that this has only been exacerbated by a ban on the advertising of prescription drugs.
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The practice of bribing doctors in exchange for favourable prescriptions is not, however, limited to India. Several cases involving large pharmaceutical companies such as Bristol-Myers Squibb and Pfizer have been uncovered in recent years, resulting in lawsuits and multi-million dollar fines.