quarta-feira, novembro 01, 2006

"Associações de doentes"

New Scientist 27.10.06

They are supposed to be grassroots organisations representing the interests of people with serious diseases. But Drummond Rennie, professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and deputy editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association, believes that some patient groups are perilously close to becoming extensions of pharmaceutical companies' marketing departments. "There's a crisis here," he contends.

Rather than grassroots, the word Rennie uses to describe such organisations is "astroturf". Originating in the black arts of politics and public relations, astroturfing is the practice of disguising an orchestrated campaign as a spontaneous upwelling of public opinion.

Other health specialists don't go as far, but they are still uneasy about the financial relationships between drug firms and prominent patient groups. "I think there are grounds to be concerned," says Joel Lexchin, who studies pharmaceutical policy at York University in Toronto, Canada. He and others point to instances in which representatives of patient groups, sometimes in close contact with corporate public relations teams, have spoken favourably about drugs at meetings or press conferences.

It is easy to see the appeal for pharmaceutical companies. Patient groups provide people with information about available treatments for a particular disease and offer support to those affected by it. They campaign for treatments to be financed by publicly funded health insurance programmes, and some patient representatives are members of advisory committees that consider drugs for approval. Firms would clearly have much to gain by filtering their marketing messages through such organisations, which tend to engender more trust than do multinational companies.

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