4 years on, code to punish pharma firms for bribing doctors still in works

NEW DELHI: While Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently mocked doctors in a public interaction in London for going on foreign trips sponsored by pharma companies, his government has been unsuccessful in bringing in a law to punish pharma companies that bribe doctors.

The Uniform Code of Pharmaceutical Marketing Practices (UCPMP) prepared by the pharmaceuticals department (DoP) to control unethical marketing practices in pharma has been in the works since December 2014, six months after the current government came to power. More than three years later, the code is stuck in the Niti Aayog after the law ministry rejected DoP’s draft.

Even the Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance, which represents the top 20 Indian pharmaceutical companies accounting for 46% of domestic sales of medicines and 60% of exports, has supported the promulgation of mandatory regulation of unethical practices in the marketing of drugs.

Doctors caught taking gifts in cash or as foreign trips and sponsorships can be hauled up by the state medical councils or MCI and have their licence suspended if found guilty. However, there is no law to prosecute companies that bribe doctors.

For instance, 300 doctors were summoned by the MCI in November 2014 on a complaint that an Ahmedabad-based pharma company was paying them lakhs of rupees, gifting cars and flats in return for them prescribing its medicines despite cheaper alternatives being available.


This particular company had grown its sales from almost nothing to Rs 400 crore in just five years. Yet, no action was taken against the company.

Despite the clear failure to self-regulate, the current government brought in the UCPMP for voluntary compliance by the pharma industry for six months starting from January 1, 2015, with the threat that it would be made mandatory if the voluntary code was found to have failed.

Subsequently, the government kept extending the voluntary code till the end of 2015.

In December 2015, the government gave yet another extension till March 2016 claiming that it would include penal provisions. But yet again the voluntary code was indefinitely extended in June 2016.

It was then taken up by the Niti Aayog last December after the final draft was sent to the law ministry.

Officials in Niti Aayog told TOI deliberations are still on and no final decision has been taken yet. The DoP did not respond to emails from TOIon the issue.

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