November 12, 2010

MCI Watchdog outlaws IMA endorsements

The Medical Council of India (MCI), the statutory body regulating medical education and practice, has found unethical the Indian Medical Association's endorsement of two food products and barred such endorsements. MCI board member Dr Ranjith Roy Choudhary told TOI the council would ask IMA, an association of 2 lakh doctors, to stop endorsements.

''We have decided to ask IMA to stop such endorsements forthwith. Penal action, if any, will be decided by the MCI ethics committee at its meeting. The decision will then have to be ratified by the board of directors the next Tuesday,'' he said.

IMA honorary secretary-general Dr Dharam Prakash said the association was yet to hear the final word from MCI. ''We haven't got any official communique and hence we have not decided anything on the contract,'' he said.

The issue is the medical association's Rs 2.25-crore contract with Pepsico to allow Tropicana fruit juice and Quaker oats to use the IMA logo on their packs for three years ending 2011. The controversy has been raging for two years after Dr K V Babu, an IMA central committee member, complained to MCI on June 6, 2008, that the endorsement violated medical ethics. After protracted proceedings, the National Human Rights Commission served a notice on the association on June 30, 2010.

After some confusion on its own powers over IMA, MCI on August 18 declared that IMA came under its jurisdiction and served a show-cause notice to the association ''for endorsing the product in violation of the provisions of the Indian Medical Council (Professional Conduct, Etiquette and Ethics) Regulations, 2002.'' In its reply of August 30, IMA argued it had not endorsed the products, but only entered into an MoU with Pepsico for a 'nutritional awareness programme.'

MCI found this explanation unsatisfactory and summoned IMA honorary secretary- general Dr Dharam Prakash for a personal hearing and inspection of the MoU. ''Now it is clear that IMA was at fault by endorsing the products. If the endorsements have not yet been stopped, they have to be, soon,'' Dr Choudhary said.

Earlier, speaking to TOI, IMA office bearers had said the decision to endorse the products was a mistake, but it was unable to get out of the contract as the settlement amount would be too big.

In a similar case in 1988, the American Medical Association (AMA) had to pay $9.9 million (Rs 45 crore) to withdraw from a contract it signed with Sunbeam Corporation. While that was an endorsement of medical equipment, IMA became the first professional body of doctors in the world to endorse a food product. In fact, IMA has endorsement contracts with health and hygiene products including Dettol, Lizol (sanitizers), Aquaguard (water purifier), Pampers (napkins) and Odomos (mosquito repellent).

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