A series of four articles in this weeks British Medical
Journal, almost all in a row, one after the other, made
for interesting reading.
The first was Roche defends buying lavish meals for
doctors at Sydneys restaurants.
The Swiss drug giant Roche, with global annual sales last
year of more than US$28 billion, has been accused of breaching
the pharmaceutical industrys code of conduct in Australia,
by providing lavish meals to doctors at several of Australias
Sales of its anti-cancer drugs have apparently increased
by a staggering 42 per cent between 2004 and 2005. The group
of doctors had been attending a Roche-sponsored scientific
symposium on haematology-oncology treatments.
The industrys code of conduct in Australia states
that for educational meetings directly organised by,
and the responsibility of, companies, all hospitality must
be simple and modest.
Roche spent more than US$49,000 on one meal for almost 300
people at the exclusive Guillaume at Bennelong restaurant,
in the Sydney Opera House, in July 2005. The restaurant,
one of Australias best, has a menu featuring dishes
like sterling caviar, basil infused tuna, kingfish sashimi,
and the best of Australian and French wines.
At least two other dinners at other exclusive restaurants
were held. At one dinner, partners were present, which is
another no-no according to the code.
Roche claims to be attempting to retrieve payment for those
partner meals, but has so far been unsuccessful. The doctors
involved are now engaged in divorce proceedings.
An ethicist and haematologist (specialist in blood diseases)
from the University of Sydney, Dr Ian Kerridge, said that
lavish wining and dining is still common practice for doctors
who prescribe expensive cancer drugs. He says that such
events are designed to build trust with doctors and ultimately
make them less rigorously critical of industry-sponsored
The second article is headed More evidence suggests
that PSA testing leads to over diagnosis of prostate cancer.
Seems that the PSA test, widely used by some doctors to
diagnose cancer of the prostate, is a bit, to put it mildly,
oversensitive. In other words, it can diagnose cancer where
there is none.
In the study done at Cambridge University in England, up
to 40-64 per cent of the PSA-detected cases were estimated
to be over-diagnosed.
PSA testing was undoubtedly detecting cancers that would
not reveal themselves in the lifetime of the individual,
said Dr Muir Gray, director of the National Screening Committee.
Why test then? Ask the company that sells the test to doctors.
And ask the doctors themselves. Were they taken to dinner?
The third article, Vitamins promoter goes on trial
for fraud, is about an alternative medicine doctor
blamed for the death of a nine-year-old boy with bone cancer.
He has gone on trial for fraud in Germany after he convinced
the boys parents to use a miracle cure
rich in vitamins and to reject conventional medical treatments.
In early 2004, the parents of Dominik Feld ended the boys
course of chemotherapy and refused to allow hospital doctors
to amputate his infected leg in an effort to save him, switching
to Dr Raths vitamin treatment instead. He died soon
In the face of all the eagerness to take vitamins, next
came an obscene report from the United Nations that more
than 300 million children in poor nations are chronically
The condition can lead to tragic irreversible mental stunting
and lower IQs, and it can impair capacity to learn, a report
by the World Food Programme says. Really?
According to UN expert bodies, about 135.5 million underweight
preschool children have mental damage, and about 32 per
cent are moderately or severely stunted and may never achieve
their full mental capacity.
Each year almost six million children under five years die
of factors linked directly to undernutrition, the
report says, adding that hunger causes widespread physical
and mental damage in the children who survive.
Does this make you wonder about some of the big boys
and big girls in T&T?
Interestingly, data compiled show that despite the robust
economic growth in 1995-2003, India had 55.3 million malnourished
children under five years of agethe worlds largest
number of cases.
In the same period, Pakistan had 8.7 million, Ethiopia 5.8
million, Indonesia 3.9 million, the Congo 3.1 million, Sudan
1.9 million, Uganda 1.2 million, Brazil 950,000 and Mexico
Hungry children become damaged adults with limited
opportunities and capacities, who end up having hungry children
of their own, says the UN.
The solution seems simple. Take them all to dinner and give