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Drug company cashes in on charity contraception event

February 11th, 2007

Dr Petra

Next week the Family Planning Association hosts its annual contraception awareness week. This is a great campaign that’s used to raise awareness about contraception and help people manage their sexual health and fertility more effectively. In this year’s campaign they’ve activities including
a new myspace page

a test your sexual knowledge quiz

and a really clear guide to the 14 types of contraception available

This is all freely available and the FPA and other health promotion organisations will be giving out advice, information and guidance during the next week and throughout the coming year. The campaign will allow women to choose a contraceptive that is right for their needs and lifestyle and will include recommendations of barrier contraceptives (condoms and caps), hormonal contraceptives (like the pill or patch) and long acting reversible contraception (like the injection, coil or implant).

So why am I getting my knickers in a twist? Because contraception awareness week I’m fully in favour of seems to be being exploited by those seeking financial gain out of a charity event.

I’ve just been sent an email that raises a lot of issues about ethics and ‘public education’.

The email came from a PR company, is being circulated widely to the media, and read….

February 2007
UK’s 1st Interactive Online Contraceptive Surgery for Women
Celebrity doctors offer advice over Windows Live Messenger

To provide young women with contraceptive advice at their convenience and offer one to one consultations, Schering Health Care Ltd has sponsored the UK’s first interactive ‘Online Contraceptive Surgery’. Throughout ‘Contraception Awareness Week’ (12th – 18th February), women will be able to chat to doctors over Windows Live Messenger (formerly MSN Messenger) to get prompt advice and information on the contraception that will suit them best.

Well known media doctors…..will be on hand to answer all contraceptive queries, educating women on the different options available to them, and equipping them with all the information needed to make sure they can find the right contraception for them and their bodies.

Many women are unaware of the different contraceptive options available, for example that they can change their pill if it doesn’t suit them. There are many pills available today and some of them contain types of hormones that help prevent annoying symptoms like bloating, breakthrough bleeding, nausea and acne.

Commitments with work, friends and relationships can make it difficult to find time to visit your GP for help and advice, and when it comes to contraception we’re often too embarrassed to ask what our options are”.

Quotes are then provided from one of the media doctors and a representative from Windows Live Messenger both saying what the service will offer and explaining how the doctors will be available every weeknight during 12-18th February from 6-10pm”.

The release states the doctors will be available “to offer professional, confidential advice on all the different contraceptive options available to women, plus advice on side effects, hormonal contents of the different types of contraception, including pills, and other contraception-related concerns”.

Links are then given on how to sign up for the event as well as an ‘educational website’ which is run by the drug company promoting this event.

No doubt plenty of journalists will want give this event press coverage. After all it’s presented as something new, exciting, technological and assisted by media doctors. It also is presented as part of contraception awareness week that gives the press the feel-good factor of covering a socially aware event.

If you are a journalist and are sent a press release like this one, here are the kind of questions you should ask before you start writing the story:

- How were the doctors chosen? Via agents or in person from the drug company?

- How many other doctors were picked – how many refused?

- Were only ‘media doctors’ chosen – if so, why?

- How much were the doctors paid to take part in the event? Were any other benefits or incentives offered?

- Did the doctors involved in this campaign sign any exclusivity agreements with the drug company (meaning they can’t speak for any other drug company or endorse a range of products)?

- What contraceptives will be recommended first by the doctors involved in the event? Will they be recommending brands made by the drug company before other products and recommending hormonal contraceptives before they mention methods like the IUD, cap or condoms?

- Given the drug company will have more money and time to promote this event (not to mention the ‘celebrity power’ in their press release) what damage might they do to the Family Planning Association’s awareness campaign? Might the drug company get more media attention and therefore detract from the wider charity event?

We need to question the involvement of media doctors with pharmaceutically funded events, and we also need to be aware of the range of websites, web chats and live interactive events that may be interpreted as direct to consumer advertising.

This week there will be plenty of free advice that’s given to you without any one drug company or product being promoted over others. Do yourself a favour and go to the Family Planning Association’s activities, or visit your GP or community reproductive/sexual health clinic where you can get impartial advice, for free, every day of the year.

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