Due to new understandings of disease, diagnostics and treatments practising medicine has extraordinarily changed in the past decades. More recently, free market economy concepts are introduced in the health sector under the idea of improving medical care for patients, and health care overall.
Both developments produced a pharmaceutical industry fostering excessive drug consumption through systematic exaggeration of drug benefits and intensive drug marketing. The industry is largely taking over the role of providing information to the public and professionals, influencing patients and medical practitioner’s health priorities, expectations and needs. It finances successfully lobbying to shape regulations and politics. Today, almost all big pharmaceutical companies are involved in litigation processes and had to pay huge fines and compensations for suppressing evidence of risks, harm, for illegal promotion of drugs and fraud in recent years.
The prospect of the brave new world is: commercial imperatives trump health priorities. Big Pharmas interests and investments are influencing more and more the essence and conduct of medicine worldwide thus systematically changing our understanding of human nature and health. Their ethos of drug research, regulation and marketing starves national medical supply systems; sustain medicine deprivation globally while compromising the industries capacity for innovation. Trade rules favoured by big pharmaceutical companies block access to medicines and intellectual property rights compromise relevant innovation. Outside the major drug markets, people are dying because essential medicines are either not available or not affordable. There is under-medication in poorer communities, and over-medication in richer ones, interlinked like two sides of the same coin.
The industry is increasingly seen as dominating the way medicine is practised and threatening the independence of medical practitioners. The companies have a major impact on the nature and availability of drug treatments. They are developing vast numbers of drugs, most not needed and all purporting to be best, resulting in crushing financial pressures that no solidarity financed health system could ever survive.
We have arrived at a tipping point where the leading transnational pharmaceutical companies devote their main energies to marketing lifestyle products or functional foods, rather than finding ways to meet real medical challenges. The current system is not simply the product of malevolence, but the expression of a deeply flawed system driven by self-interest, dominated by a complex of corporate bodies all competing to survive. Governmental bodies tasked to regulate the pharmaceutical sector to ensure that research, development and production serves the genuine health needs of the people are failing. The medical profession is partly complicit with the industry.
Therefore, the dominant fallacy that drugs increasingly resemble magic bullets of personalised medicine and offer ever better solutions for the main trials of life needs to be challenged.
It is the duty of medical practitioners and medical societies to ensure their independence and integrity. Without implementing structural changes – comparable to those in the financial systems - addressing necessary urgent health challenges in a globalised word will fail.
The international conference opened a debate held among academics and civil society organisations to a wider public. It put forward the main issues, introduced analysis and put answers for discussion how some of the problems could be solved.