A report from the watchdog group Consumers International says multi-national pharmaceutical companies are targeting doctors in developing countries with dinners and lavish gifts as incentives to prescribe their drugs. Tendai Maphosa reports for VOA from London Consumers International is also critical of drug advertisements in developing countries that sometimes promote a drug without mentioning the side effects or the restrictions on its use.
The Consumer International report called Drugs, Doctors and Dinners says leading pharmaceutical companies shower gifts on doctors in developing countries with the intention of promoting sales of their drugs.
The report says the gifts range from small items such as pens and notebooks to expensive foreign holidays, televisions, air conditioners, school tuition fees, and jewelry. Doctors can also be rewarded for writing a specified number of prescriptions of a company's high-priced drug with a down payment on a brand new car.
Consumer International's Luke Upchurch said the findings of the report are based on research in nine developing countries. He said the companies are using tried and tested methods they have used in western countries for many years to try to influence prescription behavior of doctors.
He said the practice could lead to irrational drug use. He said figures show up to 50 percent of the drugs in developing countries are mis-prescribed or mis-sold to consumers.
Upchurch said the doctors supported the findings of the report.
"Doctors interestingly will admit it themselves that the behavior of drug companies does influence prescription behavior and the more money spent on gifts, the more money spent trying to convince doctors to prescribe certain drugs or to consider certain drugs in their prescription really does work," he said.
The report also says drug companies use advertisements in developing countries that sometimes promote a drug without mentioning the side effects or the restrictions on its use - for instance that it works in women, but not men.
Upchurch says consumers in developing countries lack the information and sometimes the education to question doctors or to seek alternatives. A lack of resources, he says, is leaving the drug companies to carry out their practice unchecked.
"The issue for governments in the developing world, which does contribute to the problem, is the tremendous lack of resources they have in being able to monitor these drug companies and their behavior," he added. "It takes a tremendous amount of time, effort, resources, and money to keep track of what drug companies are doing in promoting their products. We feel that drug companies are taking advantage of this weak or inadequate infrastructure which you find in a lot of developing countries."
The report says that self-regulation by the multinational drug giants has failed. An international ban of companies giving presents to doctors Upchurch says, is the only solution that would remove all ambiguity.