A number of doctors in Vietnam are advertising pharmaceutical products under the guise of medical advice, according to insiders who say the practice is unethical and a violation of government regulations.
Most popular recently is a commercial about a headache drug produced by the UK-based GlaxoSmithKline on Vietnam Television channels.
The product is also seen in several newspaper advertisements, in which a doctor says that the drug has helped him a lot with his job pressure over the past 18 years, the Saigon Tiep Thi reported Friday, identifying the doctor only as T.V.K.
But a circular issued by Vietnam's Health Ministry bans doctors and medical officials from using their stature to give recommendations in the media that could be construed as advertising.
The decree issued in 1996 also stipulates that doctors have to be "very cautious" about the possible results of their public statements.
Many doctors in Vietnam have recently recomended specific drugs while answering health questions in the local media.
Some doctors have let newspapers run their quotes alongside illustrations of the drug they recommend, the report said.
Dr. Nguyen Huy Quang, deputy head of the Legal Department at the Health Ministry, said that considering the decree, using doctors' images to recommend medical products in the media "is totally wrong."
The report suggested that while the word "show" may be vague, "many doctors are still agreeing to promote medical products in various forms."
"That depends on their conscience," Quang said.
He said the ministry has not managed to punish many such cases, and has also failed to explain itself.
Doctor Do Hong Ngoc, former director of the Ho Chi Minh City Health Education and Communication Center, said "it's not right" for doctors to allow drug producers or marketing firms to use their names in any form.
"When a known doctor says something about a kind of drug, people will put all their trust in that drug," Ngoc said.
"If the drug turns out to be not effective in the ways the doctor has said, people will lose their trust in the product, then the image of the doctor and his workplace will be also effected," she said.