Indian Medical Association

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2019: profiteering from endorsements

Rema Nagarajan, June 29, 2019: The Times of India

The Indian Medical Association (IMA) is back at it — endorsing commercial products. Except, this time they aren’t calling it endorsement. The new name is “certifying a claim that is health-friendly”. And IMA is refusing to divulge how much money has been given for this certification citing “nondisclosure agreements” with the companies whose products they have certified.

The IMA has ‘certified’ a so-called anti-microbial LED bulb which claims to kill 85% germs, and an indoor paint that claims to kill 99% infection-causing bacteria within two hours of exposure to the painted surface. Responding to TOI’s queries, IMA secretary general Dr R V Asokan said IMA only certified claims on whether a technology or statement is “health-friendly”. “It is on the lines of pre-entry level accreditation cum certification of medical establishment by NABH (National Accreditation Board for Hospitals),” he said.

Though he admitted that IMA received “a processing fee” for certifying claims, Dr Asokan refused to reveal how many such products the body had ‘certified’ or how much money it collected as “processing fee”. The IMA also did not divulge what scientific study the certification was based on, whether it was a published in a scientific journal, and who had funded the study. Instead, it brushed the whole issue aside saying claims are evaluated by a committee that clears a claim for “further processing” if “available literature and/or laboratory reports” referred to are found credible.

After facing flak in 2010 for endorsing commercial products like fruit juices, oats, soaps, and water purifiers to earn crores, then secretary general Dr Dharam Prakash — who was issued a notice in the matter by the Medical Council of India (MCI) — had stated that as a policy the IMA had decided not to do any more endorsements.

In February 2014, the MCI reinterpreted the Code of Medical Ethics Regulations 2002 as being applicable only to doctors and not to their associations. Thus, what an individual doctor was barred from doing could be done by seven doctors (the minimum number needed to form an association) getting together.

Chairperson of MCI’s Board of Governors, Dr Vinod Paul, when contacted by TOI about thelatest endorsements, said that the board had received complaints in this regard and was “seized of the matter”. It would examine the issue of doctors’ associations endorsing products when doctors are not allowed to do so, he said.

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