Recent proposals to revise the legal framework for medicines in the EU raise concerns for public health and national health budgets,
argues HAI Europe. The article “Is the EU edging towards DTCA? Examining the consequences of industry's latest lobby” describes the strong
pressure the European Commission is under to relax its rules on advertising prescription medicines directly to consumers in the
European Union and the amount of potential profit at stake. It summarises how other regions such as the United States, New Zealand, Australia and Canada are responding to industry pressure
on this type of advertising. The story also suggests that moves to allow DTCA in Europe could have huge consequences for consumers in the developing world.
As little research is available on the public health benefits of DTCA, the question remains: who actually benefits from DTCA--consumers or industry?
HAI concludes that the EU needs to enlarge its debate to more fully assess the implications of DTCA for all stakeholders. If it does
not, it risks introducing advertising that could seriously damage public health and national budgets.
The impact of DTCA on developing countries, by Andy Gray
John Bunzl, founder and director of the International Simultaneous Policy Organization, has written about how the power of transnational corporations and the increasing reach of international trade agreements have limited the policy options open to governments. In his words: competitive markets now represent a sinister 'hidden hand' which narrows the policy parameters to what has now become a highly restricted, business-friendly stance which excludes all those restorative policies traditionally espoused by the political Left to balance social and environmental concerns against those of business.
It is interesting to examine how this trend might be reflected in the hotly contested area of DTCA. The trend appears to be towards a single standard, that of the United States. Shifts towards a single, US-style standard in two of the three largest drug markets in the world will have a profound impact on the policy options open to governments in the developing countries of the South. Already, such countries are bombarded with media coverage from the developed North. Increasingly, advertising campaigns from one country spill over into the next. Magazines and newspapers flow across borders. The Internet has also rendered national borders largely immaterial. This has another effect: the standards of the North are touted as the norms, as indicative of informed and civilised policy stances.
A creeping policy consensus that is portrayed as business-friendly, democratic, patient-empowering and (almost) globally acceptable will be hard to resist. Therefore, for Europe to abandon a long-held policy ban on DTCA will not only have an impact in the member countries of the Union, it will potentially weaken the ability of developing country governments to pursue appropriate drug policies. It could harm patients and consumers and hinder efforts to promote the rational use of drugs.
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