Pharma cos bribe docs for brand promotion

Some pharmaceutical companies allegedly bribe a section of medical practitioners to prescribe drugs of their brands in the bid to earn quick money. The illicit practice, such as buying an apartment or vehicle, paying for a luxury trip abroad, other personal needs or even paying for children’s education seems to be the vogue.

As a result, the bulk of the marketing costs are being spent immorally. Experts believe that this amount of marketing expenditure is unusual, despite restrictions in advertising for drugs. According to Bangladesh Development Research Institute (BIDS) study, the cost of medicines in Bangladesh is higher as pharmaceutical manufacturers are spending stashes of money to influence doctors to prescribe their brand of products.

And companies are spending on average 29.36 percent of the total turnover on this marketing, according to a research report released by BIDS. It says that sometimes drug companies send a whole family of doctors abroad and spend holidays fares for doctors.

The size of the drug market in the country has already exceeded Tk 20,500 crore. Pharmaceutical companies are spending more than Tk 6 billion annually on marketing drugs. Advertisement of drugs in the media without the approval of the authorities is a punishable offense according to the Drug Control Ordinance of 1982.

Former regional adviser to the World Health Organization, Prof Dr Mojaherul Haque, said that doctors need to discontinue this malpractice in order to regain patients' confidence. The government has to take initiative to stop it. Besides, the Medical and Dental Council of Bangladesh has to play a strong role. Those involved in immoral acts should be found and punished, he added.

On the other hand, people's trust in the country's doctors is diminishing. As a result, many are going abroad for treatment. Earlier, a study titled BMC Medical Ethics raised the issue of illicit trade among doctors in the pharmacy industry. Nazin Ahmed, a senior research associate with BIDS, said that drug makers sometimes give doctors gifts or pay large amounts of money into physicians' accounts so that they feel encouraged to give their medication advice.

And these things are done through the company's dedicated medical representatives(MR). The cost of pharmaceutical companies in marketing is added to the cost of producing drugs, she added.