28 Oct, 10 | by BMJ Group
Four 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 HealthySkepticism.org (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 (http://www.healthyskepticism.org/global/announcements/entry/sellingsickness2010program/). 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 http://www.evidenceupdate-tatarstan.ru/confer/). 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.