Drug companies should be banned from giving doctors gifts, a global consumer group said Wednesday as it released a report detailing medics lavished with fancy dinners, laptops and airconditioning.
Consumers International's "Drugs, Doctors and Dinners" report calls for greater government regulation of the practices used by pharmaceutical companies to market their pills, particularly in the developing world.
In addition to stopping the practice of gifts to doctors, it also wants the implementation of rigorous regulation to vet drug promotional materials.
The report found that one doctor in Malaysia, Rafik Ibrahim received everything from pens and product samples to dinners in a typical month.
"In a span of five weeks, and in 17 hours of promotion-related interactions with drug sales representatives, 16 multinational pharmaceutical companies and nine local generic companies and distributors approached Dr Ibrahim," it said.
But in the most extreme examples, doctors were offered air-conditioning units, free travel to conferences abroad and school fees for their children, Consumers International spokesman Luke Upchurch said.
He said as countries such as Australia introduced regulations to ban the practice and pharmaceutical companies looked to poorer nations for future revenue, the problem was becoming more acute in the developing world.
"They (the drug companies) see these markets as tremendously important," he told AFP.
"And they are encouraged by the weak regulation and inability to enforce regulation."
Consumers International, which has 220 member groups in 115 countries and is holding its congress in Sydney, said without proper controls consumers could be subjected to misleading or inaccurate claims.
"Whilst the pharmaceutical industry clearly has an important role to play in tackling the health challenges, their involvement in the promotion of medicines presents a serious conflict of interest," its report said.