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Doctor delves into drug world -

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ELEANOR HALL: Dr Ken Harvey is a public health professor at La Trobe University in Melbourne.

He's just returned from Sri Lanka where he attended a meeting with a group which fights for access
to pharmaceuticals for the developing world.

He joins us now in Melbourne.

Dr Ken Harvey thanks for being there.

Now Pfizer as we have just been hearing has just signed the largest health fraud settlement in US
history. Is pharmaceutical fraud a big problem here in Australia?

KEN HARVEY: Well certainly inappropriate promotion and excessive promotion is a problem.

You know Pfizer have had something like 17 complaints upheld against them over the last few years.

Ironically unlike America the average fine given by the industry self-regulatory body is about
$50,000. So you know the contrast between the severe action taken in America and the
self-regulation by industry in Australia is very stark.

ELEANOR HALL: So could we see a similar payout imposed on a drug company here in Australia or do
the rules prevent it?

KEN HARVEY: As I said, it's self-regulation. The industry regulates itself. The code of conduct
which Pfizer and other (inaudible) companies obey is Medicines Australia, has a maximum fine of
$200,000 which is absolutely ludicrous.

I mean even in America they made the point that $2.3 billion is only three weeks of sales for
Pfizer. And you know an average fine of $50,000 is not even a smack over the wrist. It's just
written off as a marketing expense.

So look in Australia we are meant to have co-regulation. The Government is meant to be doing
something. In fact they have let the industry look after itself and it's entirely ineffective.

ELEANOR HALL: So is the public here in Australia at risk?

KEN HARVEY: Well if you look at some of the fines again against Pfizer they did, they did achieve a
$200,000 maximum fine and bringing the industry into disrepute.

You know some of the actions have been claiming again with an anti-arthritis drug that its safety
profile was much better and its effectiveness was much better than it really was.

There's very similar concerns in Australia but we just don't get stuck into them and the companies
keep on keeping on.

As I say 17, Pfizer has got 17 complaints that have been upheld over the last few years. They just
keep on keeping on.

ELEANOR HALL: Now you've just returned from Sri Lanka. Is this decision likely to help the
situation in the developing world in terms of the relationship with drug companies there?

KEN HARVEY: Oh look the problems are far worse with even less controls of promotion in developing
countries. This led the World Health Organization in 2007 to urge member states to enact new or
enforce existing legislation to ban inaccurate, misleading and unethical promotion of medicine and
to monitor promotion.

We are trying to get some action in governments around the world including Australia I might add
for the reasons I have said. But you know industry and government are very close. There's a lot of
paid lobbyists in government from industry to try to prevent any action and it's a big problem
internationally.

ELEANOR HALL: And the size of fine is not going to make a significant difference?

KEN HARVEY: Well I think it will. It will in America where they are now getting fines that are
realistic.

We have argued with the recent Medicines Australia code of conduct review, Choice consumers'
association, others, that the minimum fine in Australia should be a million dollars at least. That
would concentrate the mind.

But when you have an average of sort of $50,000 fine of course the companies will keep on doing it
and it's about time that the Government or the ACCC took some action in this.

ELEANOR HALL: Dr Ken Harvey thanks very much for joining us.

That's Dr Ken Harvey who is a public health professor at La Trobe University in Melbourne.