Vasiliy Vlassov on a Russian medical conference without pharma support

Vasiliy VlassovFour hundred years ago on European maps the land that became Russia was called “Tartaria.” Now Tatarstan is a national republic in the Russian Federation. It is small by Russian standards — the size of Netherlands — economically stable, and has an educated population. Recently a conference took place at the local Medical Academy entitled QIQUM – Quality information for quality use of medicines.

It would be trivial to write about this conference if it was a normal conference. However, this was a rare event in Russia: there was no drug industry support, and not a single drug or device booth in the foyer.

How is it possible in a country where the government is famous for never supporting the participation of doctors in conferences and for paying them wages that are 25% of the amount that bus drivers receive? In Europe only Russia and Ukraine pay doctors below average wages. How was the conference possible when most influential medical academies fill their specialist conferences with industry sponsored symposia, specifically to make money?

The clinical pharmacology professor of the Tatarstan Medical Academy, Dr Lilia Ziganshina, organised the conference. She was heavily influenced by Peter Mansfield and (previously MaLAM, the Medical Lobby for Appropriate Marketing), and she was serious about moving towards independent drug information, free from the biases introduced by marketing. Peter Mansfield (Australia), Joel Lexchin (Canada), Edward Burger (WHO), and a couple of other international speakers provided some international presence and shared their unique experiences in exposing biased information. They arrived straight from the first “Selling sickness” conference ( Russians arrived from Moscow to the Far East and other delegates came from countries in the former Soviet bloc.

If I had been asked a year ago whether it is possible to arrange a big pharmacology meeting without industry support I would have said that nobody will do it. It would be like being hungry at a table filled with free snacks. But it happened! We had the first conference of this kind, with no drug advertisements.

Of course, it was not perfect – life is not perfect. As well as the support received from educational institutes, it was sponsored by one of the big oil and gas companies and the biggest national publisher of medical books, Geotar (the full list of supporters is here Although this sponsorship might not be ideal, it is much less of a conflict of interest than sponsorship from the pharmaceutical industry, which is why this conference was such a special event, and worth paying attention to.

Competing interest: My attendance at the conference was sponsored by Geotar.

Vasiliy Vlassov is a Professor of medicine at the Higher School of Economics, Moscow. His research interests are in epidemiology, evaluation of diagnostic tests, public health, and especially health care delivery with scarce resources. He is the co-founder and current president of the Russian Society for Evidence Based Medicine.

  • Dr Peter Arnold

    Congratulations, Professor Vlassov!
    We managed an international conference on doctors' health in Sydney in 2007 with no pharmaceutical support, (BMJ 8 March 2008, p.522) only to have two large contingents of Asian doctors register and then disappear. We found out afterwards that their registration had been paid by a large surgical instrument maker.
    Dr Peter Arnold – Doctors' Health Advisory Service, Sydney, Australia.

  • Hywel Williams

    Well done, Vasiliy!

    Two years, we pulled off the impossible here at Nottingham by organising the World Congress of Dermato-Epidemiology without drug company sponsorship .

    Our null hypothesis was that it was impossible in 2008 to organise a dermatology meeting and break even without Pharma support. But we did it, and made a few hundred pounds profit which we ploughed into publishing the meeting abstracts.

    Our key factors in determining the success included:

    1. Choose topics and speakers that are really interesting

    2. Work with a cracking local team

    3. Use University student rooms when students are on holiday, plus University lecture space

    4. Attract less numbers of people who really want to be there

    5. Invite talented local speakers (we were very lucky in having a Nobel prize winner)

    6. Source local entertainment

    OK, it sounds impressive, but Dermato-Epidemiology is a small field, and we are only talking about a 100 people or so. But still it was a major achievement which shows that it is still possible for medical education to occur in the absence of industry support.

    best wishes


    – we organised an international dermatology meeting without any sponsorphip from the Pharmaceutical industry whatsover, thereby forcing us to acept