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UCPMP: A Toothless Tiger

Ramesh Shankar
Wednesday, December 11, 2019, 08:00 Hrs  [IST]

Recently, there were reports in a section of the press that the pharmaceutical companies continue to bribe doctors to prescribe their medicines. If these reports are to be believed, the pharmaceutical companies continue to bribe the doctors with expensive gifts such as sponsored foreign trips, microwave ovens, smartphones, jewelry items, etc to prescribe their products. What is more stunning, according to the reports, is that even women are on offer by the pharmaceutical companies to the doctors as bribe to prescribe their products. As per the reports, the medical representatives have revealed that hardly 10-20% of doctors follow the Medical Council of India‚Äôs code of ethics, while the rest accept or even demand incentives to prescribe products of a particular company. The MRs have further disclosed that the most common inducement to the doctors is the sponsoring them for conferences, especially international conferences. These conferences are just an alibi, as in effect these are sponsored foreign tour packages. In the reports, the MRs have further revealed that in many high-value deals, such as installments on the purchase of a car, the pharma companies even threaten the doctors if the targeted business, which is a certain number of prescriptions for medicine, is not achieved. The report also revealed that of late cash bribes have given way to petro cards, credit cards or e-vouchers which can be used for online shopping.  

Though these revelations are nothing new, what is intriguing is the studied silence of the government on the issue. Though the Department of Pharmaceuticals had come out with a Uniform Code for Pharma Marketing Practices (UCPMP) way back in June 2011 to arrest the unethical marketing practice of bribing of doctors by the pharma companies, it remained largely on paper as it was a voluntary code. After releasing the marketing code, the DoP had then stated that its implementation will be reviewed after six months and if it is found that it has not been implemented effectively by the pharma companies, the government would consider making it a statutory code. In a country like India where even the mandatory laws are very often violated rather than complying, the less said the better about the implementation of a voluntary code like UCPMP. But, instead of making it mandatory after six months, the government dragged its feet on the issue. Finally, after almost three years, the DoP came out with a revised UCPMP in 2015, which was also voluntary. As the code lacked penal provisions to deter the wrongdoers, a large section of the pharma companies continued to indulge in bribing the doctors. As voluntary compliance failed to materialize in the absence of any deterrence, the DoP finally decided to give the code some teeth. So, in September 2015, it came out with a plan to make the marketing code mandatory with legal backing and penal provisions by introducing it under the Essential Commodities (EC) Act, 1955. But, due to stiff opposition from the industry and industry associations, the issue is still entangled in the bureaucratic red-tapism. The industry has aired its apprehension that bringing the code under the EC Act will create an unrealistic environment of fear instead of creating an environment for compliance. Now that more than eight years have lapsed since it first introduced the code, the government should now give some teeth to the UCPMP by making it a mandatory marketing code.


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pradeep awasthi Dec 16, 2019 4:16 PM
Its certainly an eyewitnessed facts as far as inclinic tampering of medical practioners by pharma companies is concerns which has been evolved from commercial gifts,conference sponsorship to famiy tours at exotic destination also direct schemes,discounts on yearly purchase of surgical and hospitalisation goods has became a routine practice where its always seen in form of nexus between doctors and pharma companies.
But since unfair trade practices is not a surprise in a country where Dop itself has been alleged of licensing many substandard medicines without caring of ethics and quality of pharma profession.Thus even though issue of corrupting doctors had reached to a flashpoint but still it can never keep a fullstop in ongoing anarchy of medical profession which has been downgraded by many enumerated problems.Hence though UCPMP code of ethics has been well framed to curb this illegal transaction of business but its difficult to follow in corrupted systems of medical profe
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