If the Prime Minister-led National Development Council is sincere in its intent, it can cure a deep-rooted malaise involving doctors and pharmaceutical companies. On Thursday, the council discusses a law to rein in pharma companies that ply doctors with expensive gifts, or sponsor their foreign trips to oblige them in order to boost sales of their drugs. In exchange for home appliances, jewellery, cash, cars or a trip to an exotic destination, doctors prescribe medicines manufactured by such firms. Even life-saving drugs are peddled in a similar manner.
So who suffers the most from these ‘sweet deals’? The patient, of course, who has complete faith in the doctor. He follows his instructions blindly, sometimes paying way beyond his means for some medicines. He may never know that a pill with the same generic composition from a low-profile company would have cost far less. If industry insiders are to be believed, the manufacturing cost of a drug is insignificant compared to its maximum retail price, which also factors in promotional activities and campaigns.
Interestingly, such companies could brazenly bribe doctors only because there was no law to prosecute them. The Medical Council of India has directives prohibiting doctors to accept such ‘gifts’ but these are hardly followed by the medical fraternity.
Laws alone will not be enough to tackle corruption of such magnitude. How does the prime minister intend to enforce them since powerful companies with enormous money power and clout are involved, as well as lakhs of doctors across India? It’s a very tough job, but if executed properly, can bring a smile to 100 crore people.