Health Action International Open Seminar and AGM
Beth, David and the Pharmaware team share their experiences at the recent Health Action International open seminar and annual general meeting.
Among the line-up of fantastic speakers were Professor Peter Gøtzsche and Dr Tom Jefferson (both of Cochrane Collaboration) and Dr Deborah Cohen (BMJ), each speaking on a particular aspect of access to medical data. Access to data (or lack thereof) is without a doubt one of the biggest problems facing modern medicine. The phenomenon of publication bias is rife in every area of medicine, and without all the evidence, we cannot possibly make effective prescribing decisions.
Tom Jefferson, editor of the infectious diseases Cochrane group, kicked off proceedings with a case study on the Tamiflu vaccine. Tamiflu has been stockpiled by governments around the world and put on the WHO essential medicines list without any evidence that it reduces the risk of complications or death from H1N1 infection. This effectively illustrates how the lack of rational or evidence-based use of medicines has led to a massive waste of resources, particularly in resource-limited health systems like ours. The Tamiflu saga doesn’t stop there. The infectious diseases Cochrane group has been trying valiantly to get the clinical study reports from the manufacturer, drug company Roche - but to no avail. As Prof Gøtzsche summed it up: “Tamiflu is the biggest theft in European history”. Deb Cohen followed, supplementing this with her work on Tamiflu and also giving us an insight into her life as an investigative journalist for the BMJ.
The second session was on access to medicine safety data in the EU. Professor Gøtzsche opened with an inspiring talk on how lack of access to data has harmed and killed patients. Dr Hans-Georg Eichler from the European Medicines Agency sparked controversy with a rather untimely comment on how we all have conflicts of interest - pharma companies, regulators, researchers and even NGOs trying to tackle the problem. What he should probably have said was that we all have our own ‘vested interests’, but there was no shortage of delegates to take the lead and pull him up on this unfortunate choice of words.
The quote of the weekend definitely goes to Andrew Herxheimer, HAI founder and Cochrane legend, who was in fine form throughout (Dr Herxheimer was also appointed the first honorary life member of HAI at the ripe young age of 87!) Whilst queueing for lunch, he turned to David and asked him if he knew what was in the croquettes, to which David replied ‘no’. Andrew’s response: “So it is a double-blind croquette then”!
The next day was the AGM, and we were honoured to deliver one of the member presentations. We outlined our PharmAware plans for the coming years and it was well-received, evoking several laughs and a big round of applause. It was a fantastic opportunity to share ideas, receive invaluable advice from some of the leading experts in this field and get a number of great contacts to help with our plans.
So what did we learn from the weekend? It is easy to get lost in Amsterdam (we are useless with directions!!), Prof Gøtzsche cannot understand Northern Irish accents, Andrew Herxheimer is hilarious and makes it possible to fit that many puns into one weekend. And most importantly, we learned that medicine as we know it is broken - but also that we can make a difference. We want to start a revolution. We need your help.