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Anticipating Pharma Code

Pharmaceutical companies are required to adhere to international regulations that dictate how medicine promotion is handled during medical events. However, the Netherlands Office for Tourism & Conventions (NBTC) has noticed a lack of clarity and consistency on this issue.

Self-regulation and legislation 

The Pharma Code states that advertising for prescription-only medicines should only be shown to healthcare professionals, such as doctors, pharmacists and nursing specialists. However, this  Code does not appear to be consistently applied at international medical fairs and congresses. "We are committed to clarity," says Eric Bakermans of NBTC, 'because we want to avoid unfair competition." 

Goody two-shoes? 

The European agreements in the Pharma Code are set and monitored at national level. In the Netherlands, the rules on promotion are laid down in the Code of Conduct for Drug Advertising, and the Health Care Inspectorate carries out the audit. In the last year especially, the audit seems to have become particularly strict compared to other European countries. 


Handing over badge during Mobile Healthcare event

Different countries may interpret the term 'professional' differently, resulting in discrimination. For example, a certain nurse may be able to attend a medical fair in France, but would not be allowed to attend the same fair in the Netherlands. This is contrary to the intent of the international agreements. There are numerous examples of such concepts being interpreted differently in different countries. 

Distortion of competition 

This lack of uniformity could lead to organisers of international medical congresses avoiding the Netherlands altogether. There is a risk that pharmaceutical sponsors will drop out due to a lack of clarity about what is and isn’t allowed, and because they feel that they are subject to stricter conditions in the Netherlands. This risk could lead to the organiser choosing a different host country. NBTC believes this is unacceptable, which is why the organisation has joined forces with other stakeholders to develop two initiatives. 


A document containing Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) has been drawn up that clearly explains what is and what isn’t allowed. This document will be reviewed and approved by the Foundation for the Code of Drug Advertising (CGR). The FAQ includes both the formal agreements and an explicit clarification of terms, illustrated  with examples. 

Want to find out more? 

The FAQ document is available on this website: 

CGR Foundation: self-regulation in drug advertising — medical congresses.

Utrecht Mobile Healthcare fair at Jaarbeurs Utrecht