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Pharmaceutical industry sponsorship of academic conferences: ethics of conflict of interest
  1. Saroj Jayasinghe
  1. Department of Medical Humanities and Department of Clinical Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo, Colombo 00800, Sri Lanka
  1. Correspondence to Professor Saroj Jayasinghe, Department of Medical Humanities, Faculty of Medicine, Colombo 00800, Sri Lanka; saroj{at}


Sponsorship of medical conferences by the pharmaceutical industry has led to many ethical issues, especially in resource-poor developing countries. The core issue in these instances is to reduce or avoid conflicts of interests (COIs). COI is a set of circumstances that creates a risk that professional judgment or actions regarding a primary interest will be unduly influenced by secondary interests. Disruption of social trust should also be considered. This deontological approach should be complemented by a consequentialist approach. Towards this, the concept of distal interests (DI) is introduced. DI lies beyond the immediately visible COIs and the consequences of immediate decisions. They are ‘distal’ in time or place: ‘DI in time’ means consequence of the decision in future scenarios, while ‘DI in space’ means those that impinge on other institutions or bodies. In judging the consequences, it is also necessary to consider the reality of the existing relationship between the pharmaceutical industry and organisers of conferences. In more developed countries, these relationships are governed by stricter regulations, adherence to codes of conduct by both parties and stronger institutional oversights. In contrast, developing countries such as Sri Lanka the regulatory environment is lax and the demarcation of interests between the pharmaceutical industry and the medical profession is considerably blurred. Therefore, establishing clear rules of engagement between the stakeholders should be considered as an attempt to clear the muddy waters. The paper proposes a set of guidelines to capture these approaches.

  • applied and professional ethics
  • education for health care professionals

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  • Contributors The article was conceptualised and the manuscript was written by the author. All revisions were made by the author.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests I was appointed as the Co-Chairperson of the Organizing Committee of the Colombo Medical Congress 2020 which was described in the case study.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.