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Consumers, doctors and the pharmaceutical industry: more transparency for a healthier relationship (Guest Blog)

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If we want patients to trust the medicines they take, to trust the doctors, nurses and other professionals who treat them, it is key that all decisions are made in their best interest. To do so, full transparency is the answer.

Transparency means a lot to consumers. Our motto is that transparency should always be the default option. We advocate for limpidity at all levels, for all stakeholders and in all sectors of the economy and of society. Transparency in the pharmaceutical sector is even more vital than in others because it is all about people’s health.

Let’s face it, pharma companies, just like any other business, need to sell their products. Sales generate funds to keep the company afloat and also to finance research. It is paramount by the way that research and development should focus on developing new medicines that have a real added value and meet unmet medical needs. In any case, product promotion must be tightly controlled.

As such we welcome EFPIA’s voluntary code to disclose transfers of value from pharmaceutical companies to health care professionals and organisations. We firmly believe that the veil should be lifted on payments, gifts and other treats drug makers offer to drug prescribers.

As a consumer organisation, we can only applaud such commitment for transparency. Only a few countries – including Portugal – regulate disclosure of financial ties between the pharma sector and healthcare professionals. Those transparency initiatives from companies aim to ensure a common level playing field across the EU.

However, these rules can only be effective if every single health care professional and pharmaceutical company across the EU strictly complies with them. Should voluntary initiatives fail expectations, EU-wide legislation will be the only way forward in the long run.

All health care professionals have the right to defend their privacy. However, if they want to play the game and uphold their patients’ confidence, they had better play by the rules and disclose industry funding. Those who value privacy over transparency can continue to do their work, but without industry sponsorship.

About the author

Ilaria Passarani joined the European Consumer Organization (BEUC) in 2006. As Head of the Food and Health Department her main function is to provide BEUC and its members, intelligence, information and advice on health and food issues. She represents BEUC in several fora including among others the European Medicines Agency (EMA) patients and consumers working party, the EMA Scientific Advisory Group on vaccines, the European Commission ehealth stakeholder group, the EUnetHTA stakeholder forum and the EU Diet Platform. She previously worked in the International health and social affairs office of the Veneto Regional Government after an internship in the health department of the Italian Permanent Representation to the European Union. Ilaria graduated in Economics and management at Bocconi University in Milan and studied health economics at the Harvard School for Public Health. She is currently honorary scientific researcher at the Faculty of health, medicine and life sciences at the Maastricht University.

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