Australia: Drug firms fund Hep C awareness
By Gary Hughes and Liz Minchin
December 13, 2003
Pharmaceutical companies are pouring millions of dollars into
advocacy groups and medical organisations to help expand
They are also using sponsorships and educational grants to
disease-awareness campaigns that urge people to see their
Many groups have become largely or totally reliant on
industry money, prompting concerns they are open to pressure
companies pushing their products.
An investigation by The Age newspaper has found: An awareness
campaign run by the National Asthma Council was spearheaded by
cartoon dragon that was the registered trademark of a drug
used to promote one individual asthma medication.
A drug company
used a public relations firm to set up an expert
medical board to persuade people they needed hepatitis A and B
vaccinations. The company was not interested in raising
about hepatitis C because it did not sell a vaccine for the
guidelines issued by Australian doctors for some diseases
are being modelled by those developed by international groups
entirely funded by pharmaceutical companies selling drugs for
Groups funded by
pharmaceutical companies are helping lobby the
federal Government to have new drugs added to the
The health policy officer with the Australian Consumers'
Martyn Goddard, who is a former member of the federal
Benefits Advisory Committee, said pharmaceutical companies had
too much influence over many consumer groups.
"Drug companies find it very easy to recruit consumer
groups and they
do it very cheaply," he said.
"There's almost no such thing as clean money for most
The total amount of money flowing into patient groups and
bodies in Australia is unclear. The most recent figure
the industry body Medicines Australia shows that drug
between $20 million and $25 million on philanthropic causes in
which mostly covered payments to such groups.
One medical specialist involved in an organisation totally
by drug companies described the situation as like
"dancing with the
There are no independent regulations covering drug company
sponsorship deals and grants with patient groups in Australia.
Voluntary guidelines developed by Medicines Australia are now
independently reviewed by Swinburne University. The review is
funded by Medicines Australia and individual drug companies.
A South Australian general practitioner, Dr Peter Mansfield,
the internationally renowned Healthy Skepticism website, which
exposes pharmaceutical marketing techniques, said the
patient groups had become a huge problem.
"To be an advocate for people with those conditions,
organisations ought to be free to criticise the drug companies
as they ought to be free to criticise doctors if we are not
jobs properly," he said.