Reuters: Abbott nixes gift-giving to Indian doctors

Abbott Laboratories ($ABT) says "no more" to gift-giving in India. The U.S.-based company, which happens to be India's biggest drugmaker, has ordered its sales reps to suspend distributing the sort of tchotchkes--pens, for instance--common in the U.S., as well as the sort of gifts more specific to India, such as electrical apppliances, Reuters reports.

"Only Abbott-approved clinical/scientific literature may be distributed to current and potential customers," the company told its reps in the email, obtained by the news service. Salespeople shouldn't distribute any gift items they already have on hand, and shoudn't order more.

Indian doctors are prohibited from taking gifts and junkets from drugmakers, but the rules aren't consistently enforced. The practice has become controversial, to the point where some reps went on strike in August to protest, saying their own reputations have been sullied. The reps called for more stringent rules and enforcement.

In Abbott's particular case, Indian reps gave out household items such as vacuum cleaners and coffee makers, plus electronics, to doctors for prescribing the company's drugs, Reuters reported back in September. At the time, the company said it complies with Indian rules and that its policies prohibit quid-pro-quo gifts.

Now, a spokesman tells Reuters that the gift-giving policy has been changed. "This is an internal action," Abbott's Scott Davies told the news service. "We are suspending that brand reminder program while we review it."

- see the Reuters story