‘Unethical For Doctors to Endorse Products’
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24 November 2010
By Umesh Isalkar
The recent suspension of two top office–bearers of Indian Medical Association (IMA) over endorsing food products of private companies has evoked mixed reactions from city doctors. One thing which was unanimously upheld by all was that IMA’s status as an academic body got tarnished in the wake of such commercial activity.
Members of the Pune branch of the IMA agree that indulging in commercial activities is unacceptable. Says city president and paediatrician Sharad Agarkhedkar, "The IMA is an academic body and is responsible for the continuing medical education of its members. Instead of concentrating on its prime duties, it is wrong for office–bearers to indulge in commercial activities and endorse the products of private companies. Such commercial acts will only belittle an august body like the IMA."
This is the first time that the Medical Council of India (MCI) has punished IMA office–bearers, though it has taken action against doctors on a case–to–case basis. IMA’s national president Goparaju Samaram and secretary Dharam Prakash have been removed from the Indian medical register for six months, which means they cannot practice as doctors during this period.
An ex–president of the doctors’ body, however, thinks that the IMA, as an association, can endorse products, but they should do so only after properly carrying out the tests and ensuring scientific validation.
"As per MCI guidelines, it is not ethical for an individual doctor to endorse a commercial product or activity in the capacity of a doctor. The IMA, being an association of doctors, can endorse products, but the products should be properly tested and research regarding its efficacy and standardisation of contents should be carried out prior to endorsing. If endorsement is done without testing and research, which seems to be the case in the current matter, then it is entirely unethical and should be looked upon seriously," said Avinash Bhondwe, ex–president of IMA.
Striking a balance between the two, paediatrician Jayant Navarange takes stock of the matter in toto. "The main functions of the IMA include making doctors more proficient and knowledgeable in their respective fields, fighting just causes and taking up matters pertaining to doctors and the medical profession with the respective authorities of local, state and centre governments.
Incidental to this, the IMA requires a strong foundation of its central headquarters, state and territorial branches and local branches. At present, it has more than 1.8 lakh members all over the country and more than 1,700 branches. It is worth noting that it is the largest NGO in India and also the largest official representative of well trained and qualified doctors," said Navarange.
"To run these activities, a sound financial position is a prerequisite and considering the increasing expenses, the part of membership fees received by the state and central headquarters is insufficient.
To counteract this financial deficit, the IMA headquarters situated in New Delhi is required to make endorsements on various medical and paramedical products through which it can generate sizable funds. For example, they have endorsed healthcare products like lifebuoy (soap/liquid), dettol and also supported the poultry products by saying that it consumption is safe during the bird flu epidemic," said Navarange.
"Having said all this, it is important to maintain a balance of ethics and business. If such an association starts endorsing general utility items or food products, it is probably equivalent to transgressing the ethical limits. Prudence must prevail over purely economic gains," said Navarange.
Sharing the view, Devendra Shirole, national vice–president (elect) of IMA for the period 2011–12 said, "There is no denying the fact that IMA endorsing food products is unethical. However, this is a hard fact that IMA as an association requires funds for carrying out various social and awareness related activities for the public. But the money should be raised ethically and not by indulging in commercial activities."