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Hippocratic Squeeze

There is a new scandal in the provision of medicine to the public. As part of the national project Health, patients are being encouraged to use certain medicines, and pharmaceutical companies are being charged money for it. Kommersant has learned that pharmaceuticals manufacturers were sent proposals from the Ministry of Health and Social Development to prescribe medicines they produce for a charge of 300,000 rubles. Experts characterize that informational component of the national project as an attempt at illegal and unethical promotion of medicines without the participation of doctors.

The proposal for the new method of promoting their products came to the pharmaceuticals companies in a package of correspondence from Deputy Health Minister Ruslan Khalfin. In those letters, it was stated that, as part of the national project Health, a brochure entitled Health and Longevity Code would be published to guarantee the public individual informational materials reflecting modern information about a healthy lifestyle, disease and methods of fighting them. Participating therapists and doctors were to be equipped with those methods.

The GEOTAR Media Co., a contractor for the Health project informational campaign, was to publish those brochures. GEOTAR Media offered advertising space in those booklets with symptoms of diseases and medicines to counteract them, and pharmaceutical manufacturers were promised that their products would be listed in boldface with red ink. In addition, prescription slips with the medicines already specified would be included for a doctor to sign. For that promotion of the product, the pharmaceutical company paid 300,000 rubles. The GEOTAR Media project was launched at the end of last year and the authors of the letter from the Health Ministry promised that the brochures with individualized advertising would reach 2 million people in 2007.

GEOTAR Media's efforts did not go unnoticed. Pavel Vorobyev, head of the interregional public organization Pharmaceutical Economic Research Society told Kommersant that the mailing was widely discussed in the medical community that was supposed to sign the company prescriptions.

It's an unabashed attempt to collect money from pharmaceutical companies, Vorobyev said, and an extremely unethical proposal to doctors, suggesting what medicines they assign their patients. He added that the marketing budgets of pharmaceutical companies is often used advance medicines without the participation of doctors, but the present initiative comes under the aegis of the national project and the government.

Elena Volskaya, an instructor at the Sechenov Academy and member of the Health Ministry expert council on pharmaceuticals marketing, told Kommersant that she was informed of the letters by a number of pharmaceutical companies that are member of the Association of International Pharmaceuticals Manufacturers.

As far as I know, none of the manufacturers agreed to the special offer,' Volskaya said. It would have been a lack of professionalism, since the publication is simply does not offer ethical conditions for control the turnover of pharmaceuticals. Obviously, GEOTAR Media tried to take advantage of the national project for its own commercial benefit.

Svetlana Zavidova, formerly a lawyer for the Association of International Pharmaceuticals Manufacturers, told ommersant that pharmaceutical manufacturers say that the publisher of the letter with the commercial offer not only sent the letter out on paper and by e-mail, but made the same offer in personal meetings with company managers. Gedeon Richter, Egis, Krka and Pliva are among the manufacturers who were contacted by GEOTAR Media. Pliva found itself in an especially uncomfortable position, since its antibiotic Sumamed was used by GEOTAR Media as an example of a successful partnership. The published simply put the name of that drug on a reproduction of a prescription slip sent with the letter to pharmaceutical companies.

The companies named were either unable or unwilling to confirm receipt of the letter, saying that they received a lot of advertising spam. Egis marketing director Sergey Davydov assured Kommersant that his company had not received such an offer, but he had heard about it and considered the idea a disgrace. It is an extremely unethical story and we would never participate in it, he said.

Alexander Ionov, advertising sales manager at GEOTAR Media, confirmed for Kommersant that the company had in act sent the letters to pharmaceutical companies. As an additional service, we offer them participation in the Health and Longevity Code' project, paying us for the partnership. The thing is that the metal stands for the brochure that we were supposed to provide to clinics required high outlays and we wanted to recoup that money somehow through a special offer to pharmaceutical companies.

Andrey Kashevarov, deputy chairman of the Federal Antimonopoly Service has taken an interest in the GEOTAR edia offer. We are prepared to examine the topic. It required detailed and attentive study to identify the presence or absence of violations of the law., he told Kommersant.


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