BMJ: Drugmakers get quid pro quo for participation in Indian health camps

Several multinational drugmakers that participate in India's free health camps are doing so with a quid pro quo for prescriptions for their drugs written by camp physicians, according to a published report.

Citing the British Medical Journal, the Times of India identified sales representatives of Abbott ($ABT), Bayer, GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK), Roche ($RHHBY) and Sanofi ($SNY) as having participated in the camps by using diagnostic tests that screen people for various diseases. According to the Times, the journal said the sales reps were not licensed to do such work, in contravention of Indian laws.

The Medical Council of India confirmed that only registered medical personnel are allowed to conduct diagnostic tests and other screenings, even at the health camps.

In some cases, the BMJ reported, the screening was performed in the clinics of individual doctors, and in the camps the participating physicians usually prescribed drugs from the companies the sales representatives doing the testing worked for.

The BMJ said many reps told it that the camps aided them in meeting sales targets set by their companies. Other insiders said some drugs were prescribed based on a single positive test, even for diabetes, which often causes false positives in tests.

An Indian health ministry official said the practice, which the BMJ called a common one in India, was "totally unethical."

A spokesman for GSK told the BMJ that the company's sales reps are not allowed to perform tests and said "at no point in time" has it "sought prescriptions from [healthcare professionals] in reciprocation," adding that the company no longer has individual sales targets for its representatives as of last year, according to a release by the BMJ.

The BMJ also said a GSK sales rep from West Bengal said previously that he and his colleagues were required by "company policy" to do blood sugar tests at the health camps.

Abbott officials told the BMJ that health camps "must not be supported in exchange for an explicit or implicit understanding to purchase, order, recommend, prescribe or provide favorable treatment to any Abbott products," but again the journal reported that an Abbott rep told the journal that the tests and camps were only for securing prescriptions.

- here's the release from the BMJ
- here's the story from the Times of India