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Letter to David Learmonth re 'consumer' speaker

23 September 2008

Mr David Learmonth
Deputy Secretary
Department of Health and Ageing
GPO Box 9848
MDP 84


Dear Mr Learmonth

Re: Dr Durhane Wong-Rieger, keynote speaker at Second Joint Medicines Policy Conference

We are writing to express Healthy Skepticism's concern about Dr Durhane Wong-Rieger's scheduled keynote address, 'Role of the Consumer in Health Technology Assessment', at the Medicines Australia and Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing 2008 Second Joint Medicines Policy Conference, The Future of Medicines Policy in Australia, on Wednesday 26 November 2008.

Healthy Skepticism is an Australian-based international non-profit organisation whose main aim is to improve health by reducing harm from misleading drug promotion. We believe that it is inappropriate for Dr Wong-Rieger, and the organisations with which she is associated, to be billed as representing consumers and consumer interests, because they have a strong record of supporting pharmaceutical industry objectives in the guise of consumer advocacy.

The conference program states, correctly, that Dr Wong-Rieger is the founder and head of the Consumer Advocare Network. However, the explanation that the Network is a 'national network to provide a common voice for patient organisations' is very misleading. As detailed in the attached report, the Network has the hallmarks of an 'astroturf' (industry-initiated pseudo-grassroots) lobby group. Its website provides no information about its members or staff, nor any annual reports. Furthermore, the website is stagnant, with most entries dating from 2002 and 2003. The Network's membership seems to be ethereal and transitory, and its public policy positions have routinely advanced pharmaceutical industry objectives. Dr Wong-Rieger has used her position as head of the Network to advocate for direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA). Indeed the Network's origins are strongly linked to industry advocacy for DTCA in Canada.

The Network has received funding from Rx&D, Canada's pharmaceutical industry trade association, and PhRMA (Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America) . In February 2008, the Network jointly hosted a conference in Brazil, funded by PhRMA. Although patient groups were the specific target audience for this meeting, members of a Brazilian HIV/AIDS support organisation were banned from attending.

Dr Wong-Rieger is also the President of the Canadian Organization for Rare Disorders, which is funded by more than twenty pharmaceutical/biotechnology companies. She is also President and CEO of t he Anemia Institute for Research and Education, which is lobbying on its website and on YouTube for government funding of Novartis's oral iron chelator Exjade™ (deferasirox). Dr Wong-Rieger has featured prominently in several Novartis press releases about Exjade.

Dr Wong-Rieger is also a member of international astroturf groups funded by the pharmaceutical industry. She is a Board member of the International Alliance of Patients' Organizations, which opposes the use of generic medicines and advocates direct-to-consumer advertising. She is also a member of the Advisory Board of Patients and Patents, which has very strong industry links and objectives. In many ways, Dr Wong-Rieger and the organisations with which she is associated epitomise the globalisation of pharmaceutical industry-funded patient organisations.

The conference program states that the conference will provide an opportunity to discuss the role of the consumer in medicines policy. However, Dr Wong-Rieger's and the Consumer Advocare Network's ongoing championing of industry objectives greatly limits their credibility as unbiased sources of consumer views on medicines policies. We believe that Dr Wong-Rieger should not be permitted to offer any presentation at this conference as a designated consumer advocate. Furthermore, we urge you to ensure that there is genuine consumer representation at the conference, including a keynote speaker.

We look forward to your response, which can be directed to Jon Jureidini at the above address, or by email to


Yours sincerely


Jon Jureidini


Anne Rochon Ford


Joel Lexchin


Joana Ramos

[United States]

Melissa Raven



Healthy Skepticism


Healthy Skepticism

Management Group member

Healthy Skepticism

Management Group member

Healthy Skepticism

Management Group member

Healthy Skepticism



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