London: The sprouting "free health check-up camps" in India are just a tactic of pharmaceutical companies to push their products and are in violation of Medical Council of India guidelines, says a special investigative report in the British Medical Journal.
"Free" health camps for poor people in India have grown popular where local residents are invited to these camps that may include medical testing done by pharma representatives or technicians.
However, the practice is unauthorised, as according to the Medical Council of India, only a registered medical practitioner can perform screening and diagnostic tests.
"We have evidence that unlicensed employees from several Indian pharmaceutical firms and from the Indian arms of Abbott, Bayer, GlaxoSmithKline, Roche, and Sanofi have tested patients at health camps," said study author Frederik Joelving, a journalist based in Denmark.
Cipla acknowledged that its employees test patients, Joelving said. A Roche spokesperson said that Roche Diabetes Care India donates testing supplies to diabetes education camps but added that "people with diabetes who attend the camp test on their own, after having signed a written consent".
"Our sales representatives are not permitted to perform tests on patients in India," Ransom D'Souza, a GlaxoSmithKline India spokesperson, was quoted as saying.
D'Souza added that last year the company removed individual sales targets for its representatives.
Tests by untrained professionals can be dangerous.
"This kind of behaviour can actually lead to harm to patients -- over-diagnosis, misclassification [of healthy people as sick], iatrogenic harm of drugs," Glyn Elwyn, a primary care clinician-researcher at the Dartmouth Centre for Health Care Delivery Science in Hanover, New Hampshire, USA, was quoted as saying.
The Indian subsidiaries of Abbott Laboratories have been particularly active in the push for screening, said Joelving, with each of the company's business divisions organising health camps.
In 2011 alone, the company says it screened more than 240,000 people for thyroid disorders. Meanwhile, sales of its flagship product Thyronorm (thyroxine) raced ahead of cheaper competitors in India.
According to Leena Menghaney, a lawyer and India manager of Doctors Without Borders access campaign, "This is nothing but selling privatised health care, whether it is medicines or diagnostics."