Saturday, August 28, 2010

RTI Act comes to doctor's aid

RTI Act comes to doctor's aid


KOCHI, August 26, 2010

A Kerala doctor's campaign, using the weapon of Right to Information Act, against an unethical practice by the Indian Medical Association (IMA) has turned triumphant with the Medical Council of India (MCI) taking steps against the IMA for endorsing commercial products.

Last week the MCI served a show-cause notice on the IMA for violating its code of ethics by endorsing Pepsi's Tropicana fruit juice and Quaker oats which brought a mealy Rs. 2.25 crore to the largest professional body of doctors in India. The step followed a decision by the MCI's Ethics Committee which met last week. The IMA has been asked to send in a reply by September 1.

Dharam Prakash, IMA's secretary-general, told The Hindu over the phone that the association would soon reply to the notice and that it had already decided not to endorse any products in the future. He, however, said that the Pepsi endorsements would run through March next because of a contractual obligation.

One-man campaign

The MCI's hand was forced by a relentless one-man campaign by K.V. Babu, an ophthalmologist of Payyannur in Kannur district over the past two years. Irked by the unethical endorsement, which 'clearly was for easy monetary gains,' Dr. Babu, himself a member of the IMA's central committee, shot off letter after letter to the IMA asking it to cancel it.

He pointed out that under the Indian Medical Council (Professional Conduct, Etiquette and Ethics Regulations) 2002, endorsement of commercial products was an unethical act. (Section 6.1.1. says: "Soliciting of patients directly or indirectly, by a physician, by a group of physicians or by institutions or organizations is unethical.")

He moved the MCI, the statutory body authorised to regulate the medical profession, pressing it to get the endorsement cancelled. He petitioned the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare asking it to force the MCI to take action. He also moved the National Human Rights Commission.

Officials in the MCI and Health Ministry as well as the IMA stonewalled initially. But Dr. Babu wouldn't leave it at that. He extensively used the RTI Act to source relevant documents. He marshalled a plethora of information through RTI requests, which helped him argue his case effectively.

In December 2009, the MCI made amendments to its Code of Ethics. Section 6.8 was added to regulate the "code of conduct for doctors and professional associations of doctors in their relationship with pharmaceutical and allied health sector industry." Dr. Babu was quick to point out that the IMA came under the definition of 'professional associations of doctors.'

MCI stance

Meanwhile, a few months ago, the Central government sacked the MCI following corruption allegations against its then president Ketan Desai, who was later arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation. The reconstituted MCI took a lenient view of Dr. Babu's cause. It took the stand that the code of ethics applied to both individual doctors and their associations.

Reacting to Dr. Prakash's stand that the Pepsi endorsement cannot be withdrawn before it ran its full course, Dr. Babu wanted the IMA to cancel the endorsement at once. "How can an act, once it has been proved to be unethical, be allowed to continue for a few more months?"

He wants the MCI to take 'appropriate and exemplary action' against all the 187 doctors who attended the April 12-13, 2008 meeting of the IMA's central committee held at Puri, Orissa. This committee had backed the IMA decision to endorse the Pepsi products.


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The RTI Act was passed by the Lok Sabha (Lower House) on 11 May 2005, by the Raj Sabha (Upper House) on 12 May 2005 and received Presidential assent on 15 June 2005. Parts of the Act came into force upon Presidential assent, but the Act came fully into force on 12 October 2005, 120 days after Presidential assent.

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