Earlier, TheNetwork for Consumer Protection, a non-governmental organisation working for the rights of consumers, had staged a protest against the use of religion by some pharmaceutical companies including Swiss transnational firm Novartis to sell the vaccine with the tag of Halal (an Arabic word meaning permissible in Islam).
Dr Shahzad of Novartis confirmed the development and said his company was advertising its product to emphasise the importance of the vaccines. “The CCP is not aware of some of the basic facts as to why the company is emphasising on the importance of meningitis’s injection for pilgrims,” he said, adding the injection was compulsory for pilgrims under Saudi Arabian rules.
Responding to a question, Shahzad admitted that the word Halal was used by his company after noting that another company was also using the same tag. TheNetwork, in its complaint, was of the view that Novartis advertised the meningitis vaccine under the cover of “public service message” and by hiring a popular celebrity Junaid Jamshaid, a TV anchor of a religious programme, to give weight to its ad and target consumers in a deceptive manner.
“The advertisement is targeting around 200,000 intending Hajis (pilgrims), who are required to be vaccinated against meningitis before travel to Saudi Arabia,” it said.
Another pharmaceutical company Vikor has also adopted a similar strategy and is claiming in an advertisement that its vaccine, imported from Belgium is Halal. Vikor was also using the image of holy city of Makkah to deceive consumers, TheNetwork notice added.
Pharmaceutical companies were cashing in the religion by marking Halal on their products as if other vaccines were Haram (prohibited), said TheNetwork CEO Nadeem Iqbal.
“We should not be surprised if this irresponsible dubbing of a vaccine as Halal may spread to other vaccines like polio, which is already facing resistance from the religious lobby,” said Iqbal.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 7th, 2011.