Medical Conferences sans Drug Industry Sponsorship
Medical conferences are fast degenerating into melas which educate, entertain, amuse and irritate and deceive - not necessarily in that order. One can smell, see and feel the drug industry everywhere, advertising on the walls, shaping the contents and style of educational programmes, tempting with gifts and free meals, travel and other amenities.
In 2003, MGIMS became the first medical institute in the country to keep drug industry away from the sacred field of medical education.
In the winter of 2003, the college council members discussed means of reducing the role of the pharmaceutical industry in sponsoring medical education at MGIMS, and shaping doctors' prescription habits. At the end of the meeting, the council took two path-breaking decisions.
First, companies marketing drugs and medical equipment may no longer support any programme in Sevagram. CME organisers may not accept advertisements or money from drug companies in order to publish conference proceedings, souvenirs or information leaflets.
Second, the institute committed to underwrite a substantial proportion of conference expenses. The rest would have to come from delegate fees, and grants from the MCI and government funding agencies.
MGIMS thus became the first medical institute in the country to show that medical conferences can be successfully conducted without getting a single penny from drug and device industry.
Some doctors fear that without funding from the industry, we will not be able to invite good speakers. Also, the quality of hospitality, including the food, could be affected. We feel that these fears are irrational. As for doctors' obsession with culinary delights, are lavish lunches, dinners and drinks more important than food for thought?
Nobody know how much did the medical conferences cost in 2014. Billions of dollars are spent on funding medical conferences the world over. We experimented with the idea that simple, quality educational conferences can be held without the industry's involvement, provided there is some institutional support, and delegates agree to pay for their own education.
It has been seventeen years since MGIMS de-linked itself with the drug and device industry. MGIMS has hosted dozens of national and international conferences, workshops and symposia since, but the lack of pharma sponsorship never impacted the success of these conference. As one conference delegate aptly put it, “ the serenity and scientificity that Sevagram offers is unmatched. I could never imagine that an international conference could be so beautifully managed in a village without any support from the drug industry but you did it. And you were ahead of time- you took this path breathing decision a decade ahead of MCI guidelines.”