September 6, 2005

Doctors' groups in Brazil have condemned apparent corruption in health professionals' relationships with drug companies. The head of Brazil's Medical Association has denounced certain practices -- allegedly including prescribing incentives and gifts -- as typical of the "promiscuous" relations between local drugmakers and doctors.

According to industry sources, the alleged "kickbacks" system works to the advantage of some drug firms, in view of the long-term nature of treatment with some drugs such as antihypertensives. There are also accusations that pharmacies are involved in photocopying prescriptions, in order to assure drug firms that co-opted doctors are returning the required favours.

However, research-based industry association Interfarma claims that "generalised" allegations of this type of corruption are unfounded, and notes that many practices -- such as visits to doctors by sales representatives -- are entirely within local codes of practice.

Brazilian drug regulator Anvisa's Resolution 102 establishes clear rules for relationships between prescribers and drug firms. Nevertheless, some doctors continue to insist that practices such as paid-for journalism and free holidays are not unethical. In the meantime, without tougher enforcement of regulations, kickbacks will continue to benefit Brazil's branded drug market, expected to be worth US$11bn in 2009.