Drug company funding dominates non-profit organizations, report finds Independent voices critical for healthy public policy

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Health Canada increasingly seeks the advice of Canadians on the direction of government health policies. Women and Health Protection, a Health Canada funded working group, commissioned researcher Sharon Batt to take a closer look at where the advice is coming from.

In Marching to Different Drummers: Health advocacy groups and funding from the pharmaceutical industry, Batt describes the ways in which drug companies provide funding for health advocacy groups, arguing that this practice creates conflicts of interest.

Batt describes a health policy environment where voluntary groups are called in to play an expanded advocacy role, but public funding for advocacy has been reined in. This leaves the field wide open for pharmaceutical companies.

“When drug companies fund disease-specific organizations as part of their marketing strategies, corporate priorities may subtly take hold within the groups,” says Batt. “Will they dare raise alarms about misleading promotional practices? Will they demand that new drugs be safe, carefully assessed, and affordable to all?” she asks.

The report also documents how pharmaceutical companies use public relations firms to work with patients’ groups and voluntary organizations, contributing to a lack of transparency and allowing drug companies to covertly run disease awareness and drug promotion campaigns through apparently unbiased groups.

 “Drug companies already have enormous hidden influence in the system,” says Batt. “And we’ve seen the problems this can create, like ghostwritten journal articles and physicians over-prescribing new drugs.”

Batt makes a number of recommendations in the report, calling on the federal government to tighten up regulations so that all groups providing advice to government would be required to declare their sources of funding. She also calls on the federal government to provide alternative sources of funding so that citizens’ groups can provide health policy advice without having to rely on funding from the pharmaceutical industry.

“Policy makers need to hear from the public, but the groups that speak on our behalf need independence to stay credible,” she says.

To see the complete document, Marching to Different Drummers: Health advocacy groups in Canada and funding from the pharmaceutical industry, visit: www.whp-apsf.ca or call: 1-888-818-9172.