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“The only thing necessary for these diseases to the triumph is for good people and governments to do nothing.”

Australia: Drug firms fund Hep C awareness
By Gary Hughes and Liz Minchin
December 13, 2003

Pharmaceutical companies are pouring millions of dollars into patient
advocacy groups and medical organisations to help expand markets for
their products.

They are also using sponsorships and educational grants to fund
disease-awareness campaigns that urge people to see their doctors.

Many groups have become largely or totally reliant on pharmaceutical
industry money, prompting concerns they are open to pressure from
companies pushing their products.

An investigation by The Age newspaper has found:  An awareness
campaign run by the National Asthma Council was spearheaded by a
cartoon dragon that was the registered trademark of a drug company
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 awareness
about hepatitis C because it did not sell a vaccine for the disease.


Treatment 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 those
same diseases.

 Groups funded by pharmaceutical companies are helping lobby the
federal Government to have new drugs added to the Pharmaceutical
Benefits Scheme.

The health policy officer with the Australian Consumers' Association,
Martyn Goddard, who is a former member of the federal Pharmaceutical
Benefits Advisory Committee, said pharmaceutical companies had far
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 consumer

The total amount of money flowing into patient groups and medical
bodies in Australia is unclear. The most recent figure available from
the industry body Medicines Australia shows that drug companies spent
between $20 million and $25 million on philanthropic causes in 1999,
which mostly covered payments to such groups.

One medical specialist involved in an organisation totally sponsored
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 being
independently reviewed by Swinburne University. The review is being
funded by Medicines Australia and individual drug companies.

A South Australian general practitioner, Dr Peter Mansfield, who runs
the internationally renowned Healthy Skepticism website, which
exposes pharmaceutical marketing techniques, said the hijacking of
patient groups had become a huge problem.

"To be an advocate for people with those conditions, those
organisations ought to be free to criticise the drug companies - just
as they ought to be free to criticise doctors if we are not doing our
jobs properly," he said.