Freebies and Medicines

A public interest litigation (PIL) has been filed in the Supreme Court for making pharmaceutical companies criminally liable for giving freebies to doctors. It has been alleged that these companies shower freebies on doctors to influence them to prescribe their overpriced drugs and medicines.

Under the garb of sales promotion, freebies or indirect advantages are offered to doctors as gifts, entertainment, hospitality, sponsored foreign trips etc in exchange for an increase in sales of medicines. A proper record is maintained by companies area wise.

It has been alleged that mindless prescription of costly medicines leads to lowering of inherent immunity and future complications. A prime example of this was seen when Remdesivir injections were prescribed for Covid patients during the pandemic even when its efficacy against coronavirus was not scientifically proved. The excessive use of steroids led to a surge in cases of mucormycosis (black fungus) in Covid patients. Such practices violate the general public’s right to health and life.

But here is a disclaimer. All doctors are not like that. Most of the doctors I have come across in my life do sincere efforts to save their patients or treat to the best of their knowledge and capabilities. We have seen them working throughout during the Covid time, endangering their own lives. Whatever medications were available then, they used them to cure patients.

Coming back to freebies, PIL alleges that these are nothing but bribes. Presently only doctors are criminally liable for receiving bribes in the form of freebies, while the Supreme Court has time and again ruled that both givers and takers of bribes are equally liable.

One study has revealed that the top seven pharma companies together had spent Rs 342 billion in marketing during the last eight years Rs 43 billion per annum (on an average) on sales promotion and advertising that constitutes more than 20% of the cost of drugs.

The plea is that it takes drugs further away from the reach of the common man. No doubt, access to healthcare is becoming increasingly difficult due to exorbitant prices. But the fact remains that for any product, the selling and marketing costs are inbuilt in its price. It can’t be wished away.

What can be done at the government level is to control prices. All drugs are not under pricing mechanism. It’s assumed that the active pharmaceutical ingredients (API) cost contribution in a drug is 35% at the manufacturer level. MRP of a drug is therefore highly inflated.

But measures like imposition of a blanket trade margin etc is a difficult proposition looking to the complexities involved in the price fixation. Pharmaceutical companies consider drug’s uniqueness, competition and uniqueness, apart from R and D costs, input costs and trade margin while pricing their drugs.

But a midway is very much required to make medicines available to the general masses at affordable prices. The government has to take concrete steps despite the fact that pharma companies also give donations to the political parties.


–Kaushal Kishore

21 Comments

  1. This is an issue of great importance, Kaushal, and of worldwide interest, not only in India.
    I came across this in the UK too, and of course, it is as you have eloquently explained wrong.
    Bribes corrupt and no doctor should succumb but some do, and the law should prevent it.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m in agreement with you, Joanna. Nobody should be allowed to play with the health of common people, especially the poor. MRP of a medicine is more than six to eight times the actual cost. This needs to be regulated professionally to make drugs affordable. Though some steps have been taken for certain life-saving drugs, there are much to be desired. Thank you.

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    1. Yes, Suma, the irony is that the same generic drug is sold by different companies under different brand names at different prices. This must stop. Thank you.

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  2. This is the reality Kaushal… Imagine if these billions spent were used to lower retail prices of their lifesaving drugs instead of promoting them and making outrageous profit by giving them awa to doctors, who will then prescribe it at Full Price!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, Karima, everybody is trying to get rich overnight by hook or by crook without bothering for the deprived sections of the society. Moreover, medical profession is considered the noble and ethical one. Thank you!

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  3. For me giving free drugs to doctors is a gray area because there are many doctors who give these expensive medicines for free to the needy without asking for a penny of its cost or with a motive to make profits.
    And as far as Pharma companies are concerned if you stop the drugs, they will resort to other means to potentially ” bribe” a doctor. But what is more concerning is, are doctors the only one taking bribes?
    Are there not other people/sectors indulged in similar sorts of bribery?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re right, there are always two sides of a coin. I have also seen doctors giving specimen drugs to the needy, but I have also seen doctors selling those specimens. Not all doctors (see the disclaimer in my article), but some of them do indulge in malpractices. Simply because corruption is there in other sectors as well, should we stop talking of corruption? We have to take a stand, and side with what is good for the society as a whole.

      Liked by 1 person

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