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Logo of bmjThis ArticleThe BMJ
BMJ. 2008 January 5; 336(7634): 15.
PMCID: PMC2174762

South Africa is to publish complaints about drug marketing

Eight bodies that represent the drug industry in South Africa are developing a new code of marketing that will, for the first time in the country, result in complaints about inappropriate promotional and advertising activities of drug companies (or other drug marketers) being published.

The new code, currently in draft form, is expected to be published for consultation by the end of March,after agreement is reached with South Africa’s Department of Health.

Under the proposals the code would be administered by a new marketing code authority, managed and funded by the pharmaceutical trade associations that endorse the code. The eight bodies involved in setting up the code represent manufacturers of branded and generic drugs and pharmaceutical distributors and wholesalers.

“The code will bring more transparency to the current system. It will also give healthcare professionals the opportunity to come forward with any complaints they might have about pharmaceutical marketing,” said Maureen Kirkman, head of regulatory affairs at the Pharmaceutical Industry Association of South Africa (PIASA), which has been closely involved in the code’s development. Nearly all of the complaints that the association has received so far have come from rival drug firms.

The eight bodies are seeking endorsement of the new code by the Department of Health, which does not necessarily have the resources to police the marketing activities of drug firms. (South Africa’s medicines regulations state that a code should exist but do not say how it should be administered or enforced.)

Under the scheme the new authority would decide whether a particular marketing activity was inappropriate and would also decide any penalties. The offending company’s trade association will be required to ensure that its member subsequently complies with the code.

PIASA’s own code, which has been around for less than 30 years, does not require that complaints about marketing be published. Nevertheless, in 2004 PIASA decided to publish complaints on its website for the first time; but as complaints have been resolved between the companies concerned they have never been published, it says.

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