conflicts of interest

Oct 28, 2011


Further to the recent discussions about the Medicines Australia sponsorship of The Australian’s series, the Health of the Nation…

Medicines Australia has now confirmed that as part of the arrangements with News Ltd, they have 20,000 copies of the Health of the Nation magazine to distribute.

A spokesman said: “We are distributing them among our 50 member companies, and have given about 750 to the Consumers Health Forum”.

This reinforces what a tremendous marketing coup the arrangement has been for Medicines Australia (as argued in comments at the bottom of this post).

Update, 2 Nov: I asked Clive Mathieson, editor of The Australian:

Q: Did you know that this was part of the deal with Medicines Australia? If so, did you have any concerns about how this would look for editorial independence (ie the sponsor of the series also being part of its distribution – an arrangement more common to advertising supplements).

Clive Mathieson: I was aware of that arrangement. It’s not uncommon for us – or other newspapers – to print extra copies of publications for commercial partners to distribute. The magazine was identical to the one that appeared in The Australian. And, as I have said before, Medicines Australia had zero input into the editorial direction of the magazine or its content.


Continue reading “The pharma industry is also distributing The Australian’s health series…”

climate change

Oct 28, 2011


Rural health issues are likely to be in the news thanks to a conference starting in Alice Springs today, hosted by the Rural Doctors Association of Australia (RDAA) and Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine (ACRRM).

Perhaps any discussions about rural health should also be contemplating the impact of climate change – that’s the suggestion from a number of recent articles.

The Australian Journal of Rural Health has an editorial from the ANU’s Professor Tony McMichael, who writes that rural and remote communities can expect to feel the increasing brunt of human-induced climate change:

“… as global climate change progresses over coming decades, dust, smoke, flames, water and wind will impinge more damagingly on many of Australia’s rural and remote communities. Property, harvests, incomes, jobs and community vitality are at risk. More troubling, there are great risks to physical and, in particular, mental health.”

McMichael overviews four studies in the journal:

• A study of a community-development intervention in rural communities (the Rural Adversity Mental Health Program), which he says provides encouraging evidence that a combination of mental health literacy, enhanced social and service provider networking and activity, and education about coping with drought can engage whole communities in collective response to the threats posed by drought.

• A study evaluating the experiences of 150 older NSW farmers, which found that, although they faced the same drought-related pressures as their younger peers, their difficulties were compounded by the constraints of ageing, by seeming to fight a losing battle to cope with rapid social and agricultural changes (including the perceived high-handed imposition, by government, of new procedural demands on farmers), and by the draining experience of a pervasive sense of loss. As well, many were reluctant to use mental health services.

• A study investigating the experiences and feelings of young people, which found that many were worried about the social and economic impact of drought on their families, communities and futures. The study also revealed a need for a more coordinated support system within rural schools, more information about mental health and where to go for support for themselves and their friends – from people who really understand drought and rural circumstances.

• A study exploring the experiences, needs and wishes of Indigenous Australians in rural NSW, which found that the recent drought had adversely affected Aboriginal social and emotional well-being – by disrupting culture, exacerbating money pressures and causing a sense of loss, particularly in relation to the land.

(The journal and Wiley have kindly made the link to McMichael’s editorial freely available in response to a Croakey request but the other papers mentioned are subscriber only.)

Meanwhile, thanks to Medical Observer for allowing re-publication of this interview with Dr Rob Grenfell who has a first-hand understanding of the impact of natural catastrophes upon the health of individuals and communities.


Mental toll of climate change

Andrew Bracey writes:

Earlier this year, Victorian GP and public health physician Dr Rob Grenfell was asked  to contribute his observations and experiences about climate change and its impact on mental health to a landmark Climate Institute report. Continue reading “Climate change and rural health: a GP’s call for action, plus an update on recent studies”

conflicts of interest

Oct 28, 2011


Adam Cresswell, the health editor at The Australian, responds to recent comments at Crikey and Croakey, about the newspaper’s Health of the Nations series that was sponsored by Medicines Australia.

Adam Cresswell writes:

The most remarkable aspect of the criticisms of The Australian’s recent Health of the Nation series  is that few of the individuals making the comments seem to have read a word of it.

Charles Ornstein, president of the US-based Association of Healthcare Journalists, does at least concede this. For most of the others, including Amanda Wilson, Wendy Lipworth and Gary Schwitzer, the omission is implicit in the points they make.

Does this matter? To borrow a phrase from Gary Schwitzer, you bet it does – for it allows a blurring of two quite separate issues.

On the one hand, there are the overall principles, and whether media organisations can insulate their coverage from the conflicts of interest such arrangements risk creating.

Secondly, there is the more specific question of whether the HOTN series did in fact pander to the commercial or other interests of the drug industry.

These questions appear to have been treated as one and the same. What results is a melange of speculative and unfounded commentary that wrongly implies The Australian and its journalists were either told what to write by Medicines Australia, or recognised on which side their bread was buttered and toed a corporate line without explicit instruction. These implications are completely false. Continue reading “Adam Cresswell responds to concerns about Medicines Australia’s deal with The Australian”


Oct 27, 2011


Just to let you know that Croakey (and the other Crikey blogs) will be offline for a while (down-time scheduled from 10pm tonight til 10am tomorrow) while some renovations are done on our “back-end”, as the IT people say…

global health

Oct 27, 2011


Meanwhile, while we’re on the subject of pharma-power (as per previous posts), the article below suggests that the US is attempting to use trade negotiations to influence medicines policy in Australia.

Dr Deborah Gleeson writes:

Leaked documents from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement negotiations currently underway in Peru show the US is seeking to use the agreement to increase the monopoly rights of pharmaceutical companies and undermine the effectiveness of pharmaceutical reimbursement programs like Australia’s Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

The TPP is a proposed regional trade agreement involving Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam.

The texts, leaked over the weekend, include an annex on ‘transparency and procedural fairness for healthcare technologies’ and extra provisions for an intellectual property rights chapter that was leaked in February this year.

The annex includes clauses that would undermine the ability of schemes like the PBS to set prices for medicines that are affordable to governments and consumers. Particularly concerning is a clause specifying that prices paid to drug companies must be based on ‘competitive market-derived prices in the Party’s territory’, or other benchmarks that ‘appropriately recognize the value’  of the patented product. Continue reading “US wants to give pharma more power over our medicines policy”

pharmaceutical industry

Oct 27, 2011


As mentioned at the previous post and in an article in today’s Crikey bulletin, the related issues of conflicts of interest and pharma marketing are a fertile field for investigation by researchers and journalists.

You can get some sense of this from the list of recent articles in this conflicts of interest document.

This compilation is from Healthy Skepticism, and is provided as a free email update service to journalists (worth signing up for in my book).


conflicts of interest

Oct 27, 2011


(Additional comments are being added to the bottom of this post as they land)

As you may have seen, The Australian has been running articles and video clips about health policy in a series called “Health of the Nation”, sponsored by The Australian Medicines Industry, an initiative of Medicines Australia.

The series culminated in a glossy, 24-page magazine published on the weekend that included feature articles, and advertorials and advertisements for the pharma industry.

I have written a news story for the BMJ raising concerns about the project (subscriber access only, let me know if you’d like a copy), and also a piece for today’s Crikey bulletin.

Below are comments on the arrangement from Medicines Australia, leaders in health journalism, researchers, and others.


Statement from Medicines Australia (provided for the BMJ story)

It’s important that the Australian public understands the contribution The Australian Medicines Industry makes to the health and wealth of the nation. Many Australians aren’t yet aware of that contribution.

That is why we want to have a conversation with the community and introduce ourselves as The Australian Medicines Industry.

This initiative is to ensure the Australian public has a better understanding of The Australian Medicines Industry and our contribution to the health and wealth of the nation, as a major employer, exporter and investor in local R&D.

Medicines Australia has a commercial agreement with News Ltd. The value of that agreement is commercial in confidence. The commercial agreement does not extend to any control or influence whatsoever over editorial generated by News Ltd journalists.

The agreement arose out of meetings between News Ltd and Medicines Australia which recognised common interests.   Continue reading “Concerns raised about pharma-sponsored health journalism at The Australian”

Health inequalities

Oct 26, 2011


A vision for Aboriginal and Islander health reform in Queensland was recently launched at Qld Parliament House, with the support of the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Partnerships, Curtis Pitt.

In the article below, Selwyn Button, CEO of the Qld Aboriginal & Islander Health Council, explains some of the background to A Blueprint for Aboriginal and Islander Health Reform in Queensland, including the national health reform agenda’s blind spots around Indigenous health.

Button also outlines the key elements of the document, including a call for the National Health Performance Authority to have a specific focus on Indigenous health, and for governance mechanisms to oversee the local impact of national reform upon Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

The document also calls for the community controlled sector to develop better ways of working together and ensuring the sector’s capacity to respond collectively to health reform implementation.

The document clearly has Queensland as its focus, but it may also have some useful leads for other jurisdictions.



How can we ensure that health reform promotes Aboriginal and Islander health?

Selwyn Button writes:

The Blueprint has been a culmination of activities that have taken place over the last 12 months in the community controlled health services sector in Qld, and represents a significant shift in the mindsets of community controlled organisations nationally.

Firstly, it must be mentioned that the Blueprint was developed not only from community controlled desire, but also necessity, as there remains very little detail about how national health reform policy changes will ultimately affect the health and well being of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Rather than waiting for someone else to come up with the solutions, the Qld community controlled sector, through its membership and participating communities, provided direct input to QAIHC about what these should look like. Continue reading “How can health reform help Aboriginal and Islander health: a practical vision”

global health

Oct 26, 2011


With the European financial crisis in the headlines, let’s not forget that these are important matters for peoples’ health, as well as the world’s bank balances.

A US study tracking people older than 50, published last week in the American Journal of Public Health underlines the link between financial stress and health. It found those who had fallen behind in mortgage payments were also more likely to suffer a deterioration in health than those who had kept up their payments.

You can read the abstract here (pay for full paper). In this report on the study from Science Daily, one of the researchers suggests that the housing crisis in the US may be making health disparities worse. No surprises there.

(As an aside, the researchers used the unfortunate terms “mortgage delinquents” and “nondelinquents” to describe those who who had been unable or able to keep up their payments).

Meanwhile, in the article republished below from The Conversation, Professor Stephen Leeder, a Director of the Menzies Centre for Health Policy at the University of Sydney, examines the state of health services and public health in Greece in the wake of economic crisis there.

Leeder reminds us of the sensitivity of health and health care to financial and economic fortune, and observes: “Health, like goodwill, takes a long time to establish and can be lost quickly.”

But will the peoples’ health be a top-of-mind issue for the world’s financial and political powerbrokers?


Financial crisis takes toll on Greece’s health

Stephen Leeder writes:

Another round of violent protests erupted in Greece last week, following the latest austerity cuts to public service jobs and pay. Meanwhile, the creeping consequences of austerity measures are beginning to show, with the nation facing a sharp increase in suicides and restrictions on access to health care. Continue reading “The financial crisis and what it means for peoples’ health”


Oct 25, 2011


(Nov 23: see update at bottom of post)

What are the strengths and limitations of eHealth technologies in primary health care?

Olga Anikeeva at the Primary Health Care Research and Information Service is drafting a “research round-up”  about the use of eHealth technologies such as electronic health records, decision support systems and e-prescribing software by primary health care providers in Australia.

If you’ve an interest or expertise in the area, and can spare a few minutes – please have a look at her draft below and send your feedback by November 3 (contact details are at the bottom of the post).





eHealth aims to improve the quality and safety of Australia’s health system byintroducing a more efficient way to collect and share information such as prescriptions and test results.1 The primary health care sector could benefit substantially from thewidespread use of eHealth technologies.2 The National E-Health Transition Authority is currently working with numerous stakeholders, including GPs and allied health professionals to develop an eHealth uptake plan.2 This RESEARCH ROUNDup focuses on the use of eHealth technologies in primary health care, by exploring the benefits and current limitations of a number of eHealth tools. Continue reading “Your thoughts on the good and bad of eHealth in primary health care?”