Commerce Ministry moves to stamp out unethical drug promotions
Stabroek News
March 16, 2007

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Drug companies' targeting of hapless consumers whose only concern is getting well was the main topic of discussion at a one-day symposium convened yesterday under the theme, 'Unethical Drug Promotion'.

The symposium, which was organised by the Ministry of Tourism, Industry and Commerce and held at the Sea Breeze Hotel, dealt with how drug promotion affects consumers.

Commerce Minister, Manniram Prashad, in his address, said his ministry is collaborating with the Health Ministry to ensure that everything possible is done to protect the consumer. He said that while Guyana has a high standard in the dispensing of drugs, there is still a lot more that needs to be done as in every system there are dishonest persons. He added that his ministry is seeking to have all unethical drug promotions removed. He declared that the health of the consumers must come above corporate profit since unethical drug promotion can be fatal to consumers. However, Guyana's consumers have been very vigilant over the years.

Deputy Director of the Food & Drug Department Khame Sharma called on the minister to ensure that the right information reaches the consumers. He said resources needed to be pooled to deal with the unethical promotion of drugs.

Noting that the world has now become a small place with the advancement of telecommunication, he pointed out that advertisements in other countries are reaching smaller countries like Guyana in seconds. He noted that while there has been a call for broadcast legislation this cannot really protect the consumers from those advertisements given the advent of the internet. He said over the years the campaign has moved from drug safety to consumer protection as it is the consumers that really matter.

"Information is instantaneous and so it must be treated that way," Sharma posited. He said consumers can assist by passing on information about drugs to the relevant authorities since they need to join the fight as the drug industry only exists because of them.

Plant from God

GAP/ROAR Member of Parliament Everall Franklin looked at the issue from a number of other angles, questioning whether it is ethical for developed countries to pass down drugs, which they would not use, to Third World countries. He noted that marijuana, which is being used in other countries for medication, is still banned in Guyana and persons are being jailed for having it in their possession. He said he is not advocating that persons walk down the streets puffing the substance but noted that it is a plant from God and persons can use it for medical reasons.

He reasoned that "side effects" of drugs should not be so labelled, rather it should be "effects" of the drugs as sometimes the so-called side effect turned out to be much worse than the ailment the person was trying to rid themselves of. He called for more money to be pumped into the agencies that protect consumers so that the fight could be effective.

Franklin also questioned whether it was ethical for the US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to not support locally produced anti-retroviral drugs because they are not approved by the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA). According to him, he has spoken to patients who have been using the drugs and they have given good reviews, even saying that they are better than the ones before. The Guyana Government had been asked by donors, specifically the Global Fund, to ensure that the ARVs produced in Guyana met the standard set by the WHO. Guyana had been manufacturing generic antiretroviral drugs, which should contain the same active substances as original brand name ARV drugs. A key element for a generic drug is establishing bioequivalence, which means that the drug when evaluated must produce essentially the same biological availability of the active substance in the body when given in the same quantity as the original. The Global Fund to fight HIV/AIDS, Tuber-culosis and Malaria has set such approval as a condition for its financing of the purchase of ARVs.

Late last year Minister of Health Dr Leslie Ramsammy, who had said Guyana was not prepared to adhere to this condition as it would be too costly, around US$4 million per drug, advised that when the current batch of drugs was finished there would be no more manufactured in Guyana. (Oluatoyin Alleyne)