New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government has reminded pharmaceutical companies to “maintain a high standard of ethical conduct”, after it received a complaint that doctors discharging duties during the Covid crisis are “unduly” distracted by field staff “forced by pharmaceutical companies for online promotion of their brands”, ThePrint has learnt.
“You are requested to ensure that companies maintain a high standard of ethical conduct in the interactions with healthcare professionals, especially in the Covid-19 crisis,” according to the order issued on 26 May by the Department of Pharmaceuticals (DoP), which functions under the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers. ThePrint has accessed the order.
The order, titled ‘Promotion of brands during Covid-19 situation’, has been marked to all the associations representing domestic and foreign drug makers such as the Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance, the Indian Drug Manufacturers Association and the Organisation of Pharmaceutical Producers of India.
These associations look after the compliance of the Uniform Code of Pharmaceuticals Marketing Practices (UCPMP) — the voluntary code of conduct for ethical marketing practices in the pharmaceutical and medical devices industry.
In December, the government had warned drug makers to strictly follow the UCPMP, which curbs gifting and sampling of products to healthcare professionals.
The DoP, in its order, has asked pharmaceutical companies to refrain from promoting brands online as it causes “undue distractions” to doctors discharging their duties during the Covid-19 crisis.
“…this department has received a grievance regarding field staff forced by pharmaceutical companies for online promotion of their brands causing unduly distractions to doctors in discharging their duties, especially during the Covid-19 situation,” said the order signed by Remya Prabha, deputy director at the DoP.
The order, however, does not clarify what kind of promotions should not be done, causing confusion among pharmaceutical companies and lobby groups.
Order ‘unclear and floppy’
Industry officials and lobbies ThePrint spoke to said “the order is probably about the use of ‘webinar’ invitations (to doctors) and e-meetings (with doctors) to showcase the new offerings, which is a new promotion tool of medical representatives during the Covid-19 outbreak”.
Webinar — a virtual seminar conducted over the internet — is the new medium used by drug makers to reach out to the doctors instead of sending field staff directly to the clinics. Field staff are now connecting with doctors via e-meetings.
“The order is unclear and floppy. We are presuming and not certain what it talks about. If the uncertainty prevailed, we will reach out to the government for clarification,” said an official representing a pharma lobby.
A general advisory: DoP officials
A senior official at the DoP told ThePrint it is a general advisory to remind the pharma companies about the code of ethics.
“We have received a public grievance about this issue (where doctors were being bothered for online promotions). However, the complaint did not specify the name of the company or the incident in detail,” the official said.
Another DoP official said: “The advisory only cautions pharma companies not to innovate new ways of reaching out to doctors, which are time-consuming.”
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