SC Notice To Centre On Plea Against ‘Unethical’ Marketing Practices By Pharma Firms

New Delhi:  The Supreme Court on Friday sought Centre’s response on a plea alleging unethical marketing practices by pharmaceutical companies in their dealings with healthcare professionals resulting in the prescription of “excessive or irrational drugs”.

A bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and Surya Kant issued notice to the Centre after hearing submissions by senior advocate Sanjay Parikh, who represented the petitioners — Federation of Medical, Sales Representatives Association of India and others.

The petitioners have named the Department of Pharmaceuticals, Ministry of Law and Justice, and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare as respondents in the petition.

The plea, filed through advocate Aparna Bhat, said: “Petitioners seek enforcement of the fundamental right to health enshrined in the Right to Life under Article 21 of the Constitution of India in view of the ever-increasing instances of unethical marketing practices by Pharmaceutical Companies in their dealings with healthcare professionals resulting in prescription of excessive and/or irrational drugs and a push for high-cost and/or over-priced brands, which are practices that directly affect citizens’ health, violating their rights under Article 21 of Constitution.”

The plea contended that it is high time that the lacuna in ensuring the right to health is urgently filled up by an appropriate legislation. The plea added that there are abundant examples that show how corruption in the pharmaceutical sector endangers positive health outcomes and puts patients’ health at risk.

“As violations of this kind have become a recurring phenomenon and are progressively becoming more pervasive, the petitioners pray that a Statutory Code of ethical marketing for the pharmaceutical industry, with penal consequences, be established to curb such practices for the enforcement of the fundamental Right to Health of the people of India,” it added.

The plea argued that due to the voluntary nature of the existing code, unethical practices continue to increase and have also surfaced during the Covid-19 times.

“By contrast, numerous countries across the world, including the US, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, the UK, Venezuela, Argentina, Russia, China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, South Korea, Philippines, Malaysia and Taiwan, have enacted stringent laws to curb corruption in the pharmaceutical sector.”

On February 22, the Supreme Court had expressed concern at freebies – including gold coins, fridges, LCD TVs, and funding international trips for vacations -offered by pharmaceutical companies to manipulate doctors’ prescriptions and to recommend drugs produced by them.

Against this backdrop, the top court held that companies are not entitled to claim tax exemption on the expenditure incurred in giving incentives, rather it would be considered as part of their income.