Chapter 16: Health Consumer Groups and the Pharmaceutical Industry: Is Transparency the Answer?
Agnes Vitry and Hans Löfgren It is a commonplace for organizations with different interests to work cooperatively for shared but limited objectives. Yet large power asymmetries present particular hazards for the weaker party. Most health consumer groups operate on small budgets and rely on volunteers. They typically provide mutual support and self-help, information and advice, services, advocacy and efforts to generate public awareness of particular disease conditions, fundraising for research, and participation in the policy process. Small amounts of corporate funding can make a significant difference to their capacity to support members and their families. In contrast, large pharmaceutical corporations develop, produce and sell medicinal products, with the ultimate aim of maximizing returns to shareholders. It is increasingly acknowledged by both corporations and consumer groups that their interactions must be consistent with ethical standards. For example the Consumers Health Forum of Australia (CHF) jointly with the Big Pharma association Medicines Australia have developed guidelines ‘to assist both parties to work together appropriately in a transparent and accountable way’ (CHF and Medicines Australia 2008: 2). The guidelines note that ‘[h]ealth consumer organizations and pharmaceutical companies have collaborated for many years to address the needs of health consumers’ (CHF and Medicines Australia 2008: 2). Such relationships have given rise to a vigorous international debate, to which this chapter seeks to make a contribution (Herxheimer 2003; Kent 2007; Mintzes 2007). Industry–consumer group relations usually entail an exchange of product or corporate visibility for funding and other resources. For companies, consumer...
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