Monash University at the forefront of consumer rights in public health 

Medical testing

Today is World Consumer Rights Day (WCRD), an annual occasion for celebration and solidarity within the international consumer movement. A movement that is vital in public health and medicine. The theme for 2016 is antibiotic resistance.

Monash University’s Adjunct Associate Professor Ken Harvey has been involved in combating antibiotic resistance for over 30 years. He was a founding member, and at various times author, Chair of the Antibiotic Writing Group and Board Member of Therapeutic Guidelines Limited. Recognising that pharmaceutical promotion was also a driving force for inappropriate antibiotic use, he has also been a prolific campaigner for truth in drug advertising.

Dr Harvey is an organiser and speaker at a seminar on the Advertising of Therapeutic Goods and Services to be held at the University of Sydney on 17 March 2016; one of a series of events celebrating WCRD. 

“The Seminar will explore the number of current policy issues associated with the advertising of therapeutic goods and services in Australia that warrant debate,” Associate Professor Harvey said.

Associate Professor Harvey, from the School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, has a long-standing research interest in medicinal drug policy and, more recently the promotion of complementary and alternative medicine.  

“Few consumers understand that most complementary medicines (labelled AUST L) are not evaluated by the Therapeutic Goods Administration to see if they work. In addition, there are no effective sanctions for misleading promotion,” Associate Professor Harvey said.

He said that the escalating use of vitamins and supplements represents a triumph of marketing hype over science and that mandatory labelling of complimentary medicines (‘this product has not been evaluated by Australian health authorities to see if it works’), as well as legislation for timely and meaningful sanctions for advertising violations should be introduced.

“There is also a need for increased and better targeted post-marketing surveillance and reporting by the Therapeutic Goods Administration,” Associate Professor Harvey said.

In addition, there is concern that some groups of health professionals have uncritically embraced diagnostic and therapeutic modalities that lack evidence and put consumers at risk.  At the forthcoming seminar, Associate Professor Harvey will present a case study of unlawful advertising claims made by chiropractic clinics and the belated response by the Chiropractic Board of Australia to address such claims.

The School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine at Monash has organised and supported the seminar together with the University of Sydney, the Foundation for Effective Markets and Governance, Choice (Australian Consumers’ Organisation) and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.   

Civil society organisations represented include the Consumers Health Forum, Friends of Science in Medicine, Australian Skeptics, Doctors Reform Society and Stop the Australian (Anti) Vaccination Network.