Compliance of disease awareness campaigns in printed Dutch media with national and international regulatory guidelines

PLoS One. 2014 Sep 8;9(9):e106599. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0106599. eCollection 2014.


Background: The European legislation prohibits prescription-only medicines' advertising but allows pharmaceutical companies to provide information to the public on health and diseases, provided there is no direct or indirect reference to a pharmaceutical product. Various forms of promotion have become increasingly common in Europe including "disease-oriented" campaigns.

Objectives: To explore examples of disease awareness campaigns by pharmaceutical companies in the Netherlands, by assessing their compliance with the World Health Organization (WHO) Ethical Criteria for medicinal drug promotion and the Dutch guidelines for provision of information by pharmaceutical companies.

Methods: Materials referring to health/disease and treatments published in the most widely circulated newspapers and magazines were collected from March to May 2012. An evaluation tool was developed based on relevant underlying principles from the WHO ethical criteria and Dutch self-regulation guidelines. Collected disease awareness advertisements were used to pilot the evaluation tool and to explore the consistency of information provided with the WHO and Dutch criteria.

Findings: Eighty materials met our inclusion criteria; 71 were published in newspapers and 9 in magazines. The large majority were news items but 21 were disease awareness advertisements, of which 5 were duplicates. Fifteen out of the 16 disease awareness campaigns were non-compliant with current guidelines mainly due to lack of balance (n = 12), absence of listed author and/or sponsor (n = 8), use of misleading or incomplete information (n = 5) and use of promotional information (n = 5). None mentioned a pharmaceutical product directly.

Conclusion: Disease Awareness Campaigns are present in Dutch printed media. Although no brand names were mentioned, the lack of compliance of disease awareness campaigns with the current regulations is alarming. There were information deficiencies and evidence of information bias. A key concern is that the context in which the information is provided, mostly through indirect referral, is likely to support treatment with the sponsor's product.

MeSH terms

  • Awareness*
  • Disease*
  • Guideline Adherence*
  • Guidelines as Topic*
  • Humans
  • Internationality*
  • Mass Media*
  • Netherlands

Grants and funding

The authors have no support or funding to report.