In IAP’s new committee on immunization members have to abide by a very strict code of conduct and also have to sign a pretty exhaustive declaration of conflict of interest stating whether they, their employer or their immediate family members have received any money or travel grant or favour from a commercial business, industry association or research association or other enterprises with an interest related to the subject of the meeting or work. The declaration also includes statements about research support including grants, collaborations, sponsorships and other funding the person or his department or research unit might have received. It also includes non-monetary support for research such as equipment, research assistants, facilities, paid travel to meetings, investments such as stocks, bonds, securities, in a commercial and so on. Plus, the members have to have undergone some training in the field of immunization and vaccines.
Doctors thronging the stalls put up by various pharma companies especially vaccine manufacturers
Secretary general of IAP Dr Sailesh Gupta pointed out that all doctors’ associations take money, whether it is gynaecology association or the cardiology association of India, as they cannot conduct training without pharma support.
“Why only pharma? There should be concern about us taking funding from WHO or the UNICEF. Even they have an agenda. For example, UNICEF also promotes food products for children. So, even with these international agencies they will want to promote a particular food product they are using in say Africa. So, we need to be careful with them also,” said Dr Gupta. He added that there were very few organisations which were doing something about conflict of interest like the IAP.
Dr Gupta said that Medical Council of India (MCI) was not responsive to doctors’ concerns. “MCI never responds to any letter we send. Sometime back we were organising two conferences which were being funded by pharma companies. We wrote to the MCI seeking clarification regarding this. We got no response from them. Finally, we hired a lawyer specialised in MCI regulations who assured us that there was nothing amiss in conducting the conference. If MCI clarifies that organisations cannot take funds at all from pharma we will abide by that.”
He further explains: “We understand that the public has concerns about conflict of interest in us taking funding from pharma. But when we make recommendations we give an entire armament of medication for a condition and not by brand name. We ensure that pharma does not advertise inside the area where the programme is taking place even when a company is funding a session or workshop or training. We only use generic names and the only credit is to say that the programme is supported by so and so company. We are very careful about conflict of interest.”
While it is true that IAP is making efforts to address conflict of interest in its immunisation committee, it is not entirely true that IAP does not promote brands or that they do not allow advertising inside where programmes take place. A few photos from IAP’s annual conference Pedicon held just last month, show that industry particularly vaccine industry was visible everywhere and even during sessions their advertisements were being projected. Members were also being given gifts by companies at their stalls.
Is this a case of more things change, the more they remain the same? Or, is there a genuine effort to change illegal funding practices and address conflict of interest issues?