A writer wanted doctors accepting bribes from drug firms to be named and thus humiliated in public. And tongue-in-cheek awards were announced for drug giants that aggressively promoted needless products like sleeping drugs for children. All that more at the Consumers International congress at Sydney.
Speaking at the forum on Wednesday writer Ray Moynihan, a noted critic of the pharmaceutical industry, wanted doctors publicly named and even charged if they accept dinners and other "bribes" from drug companies.
AdvertisementHe said the current regulations on the issue needed to be strengthened in order to end "poisonous and potentially deadly" drug promotion.
"Events like wining and dining now have to be revealed, but what we don't know is the names of the doctors attending these events, and that's one of the next steps," he said. "There's no reason that patients shouldn't get access to all that information about their doctors." The following step must be to criminalise those "bribes."
Already the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has introduced rules forcing pharmaceutical companies to declare all gifts to doctors.
The number of doctors attending sponsored events and the full costs incurred must be declared.
Moynihan, from the University of Newcastle, told the meeting the commission had made a "very good start."
The Consumers International, a global federation of consumer advocate organizations, also released a report revealing lists of inducements to doctors in developing countries.
New cars, mobile phones, whitegoods, children's private school fees and gifts of domestic cattle as well as dinners, trips and gifts from mousepads to motorbikes were bestowed.
Consumers International wants all governments to ban pharmaceutical companies from giving doctors gifts. "The pharma industry sees the developing world as a trillion-dollar opportunity to secure profits over the next 40 years," said Richard Lloyd, the director general of Consumers International.
The report cites examples including an allegation that one company offered Pakistani doctors a downpayment on a new car if they wrote 200 prescriptions for a particular drug, and a Malaysian GP who recorded that 17 hours of his surgery time over five weeks had been taken up by the promotional activities of AstraZenica, GSK, Pfizer and Sanofi-Aventis.
Harvey Bale, head of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations, acknowledged "egregious over-promotion" of drugs was a concern, but legislating against it was going "far, far too far."
On Tuesday the Congress declared sleeping pills advertised for children, dangerous toys and bottled water taken from local reservoirs were among the world's worst products.
The US subsidiary of Japanese firm Takeda Pharmaceuticals had promoted a sleeping drug for children, running a television advertisement which used images of children, chalk boards and a school bus to sell its drug Rozerem.
The "back-to-school" advertisements, which complied with US law, promoted the sleeping pills to parents without including health warnings for children, Consumers International said.
"This case demonstrates the lengths to which some drug companies will go to increase sales of their products, how direct to consumer advertising can promote irrational drug use, and how weak regulation can foster irresponsible corporate behaviour," the Consumers International said.
Another award went to drinks giant Coca-Cola for pushing marketing "into the realms of the ridiculous" in the United States and South America with its Dasani bottled water which is sourced from the same reservoirs as local tap water.
Kellogg's, best known for its cereals, was given a bad food award for the worldwide use of cartoon characters and marketing aimed at children despite the high levels of salt and sugar in some foods.
"Kellogg's are one of a number of international food companies that make money by selling products high in fat, sugar and/or salt," the vocal consumers group said.
"Threatened with litigation in the US, Kellogg's have agreed to change some of their marketing practices, however we believe they are doing too little, too late."
Toymaker Mattel was also named over the global recall of more than 19 million products made in China because of high lead levels and small magnets.
Last month the US toymaker apologised to China, saying the vast majority of recalls were due to design flaws and had nothing to do with where the toys were manufactured.
"This is a classic case of avoiding accountability and shifting responsibility on a global scale," the group said.
"Wherever the fault lies, the safety of consumers was compromised and this should be the full focus of Mattel's attention, not finger pointing and not blame dodging."
The Consumers International said the awards were aimed at highlighting the abuse of consumer trust.
"These multi-billion dollar companies are global brands with a responsibility to be honest, accountable and responsible," the group's director general Richard Lloyd said.
"In highlighting their shortcomings, Consumers International and its 220 member organisations are holding corporations to account and demanding businesses take social responsibility seriously."