Beijing - Alcon, the eye-care division of Novartis, and Dumex, Danone’s baby formula unit, are investigating reports that their employees in China paid doctors to boost sales, amid a government crackdown on corruption in health care.
Alcon’s China unit diverted funds meant for post-marketing clinical studies on its lens implants to bribe doctors at more than 200 hospitals, the 21st Century Business Herald reported yesterday, citing a whistle-blower nicknamed “Zorro”.
Dumex said on Monday that it would immediately start an investigation after a report on China Central Television (CCTV) that the business made payments to doctors and nurses in the city of Tianjin to help sell its products.
Concerns that illegal payments to health-care workers are stoking medical costs in China prompted the government to intensify a crackdown on kickbacks two months ago.
Authorities said on July 15 that they were investigating GlaxoSmithKline, which they accused of using money and sexual favours to bribe doctors and health officials to boost the sale of its drugs.
“Corrupt practices among doctors, hospitals and drug companies in China have unnecessarily increased the burden on people trying to get medical services, so this is a very basic livelihood issue,” said Joseph Cheng, a political science professor at the City University of Hong Kong.
Hitting out at the medical sector “can also help make the new leadership more popular”, Cheng said.
Alcon was meant to do research on six products in China, including Restor and Toric, which are implants that treat astigmatism. It spent more than 1.4 million yuan (R2.2m) on the studies last year, the Business Herald cited Zorro as saying. One doctor received 45 000 yuan for recruiting 150 patients, according to the report, citing material from the whistle-blower.
“Alcon does not tolerate activities that are not in compliance with the laws and regulations in the markets where we operate,” the company said yesterday. “When any inappropriate activities are identified, we take swift remedial action.”
Dumex made payments ranging from several hundred yuan to about 10 000 yuan in various forms of “sponsorship fees” to hospital staff for product sales, according to the report by CCTV, which cited interviews and documents provided by an unnamed former sales manager from the Danone unit.
The baby formula maker said on Monday that it was “extremely shocked by the CCTV report” and would start an immediate investigation.
Both the parent companies face other difficulties in China. On August 13, a woman identified by the pseudonym Li Li claimed in a report in the Business Herald that she was asked by Novartis to give doctors kickbacks in return for sales of a cancer drug.
Novartis was investigating the allegations by the former employee, who had made a compensation claim against the company, a Novartis spokesman said at the time.
Separately, Danone’s Dumex was fined 172 million yuan in August by the nation’s top economic planning body for fixing the price of milk powder.
Danone issued a precautionary recall of its milk formula products last month after Fonterra Co-operative Group, which supplies dairy products, warned of contamination in a whey protein ingredient. - Bloomberg