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U.S. News

Hepatitis C Ad Blitz Raises Ethical Qualms

July 19, 2006

Some health experts are criticizing an ad campaign by drug manufacturer Hoffman-La Roche Inc., depicting a hepatitis C patient with a bruised and battered face, as causing unnecessary alarm among patients.

The ad reads, "If Hep C was attacking your face instead of your liver, you'd do something about it. Ready to fight back?" It is part of Roche's larger effort to sponsor hepatitis C seminars for the public and to support patient groups and many liver physicians.

Victor J. Navarro, head of liver transplantation at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, said the ad is "a marketing tool to make people fearful of hep C." Navarro and other experts pointed out that the vast majority of hepatitis C patients will not die from the disease.

Roche spokesperson Mike Nelson said 600,000 hepatitis C patients have been diagnosed but not treated and may not know about the company's medicines Pegasys and Copegus. He said the ad was intentionally strong "to break through the clutter."

"I think the ad is awful," said Dr. Leonard B. Seeff, who oversees hepatitis research at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. "Patients with hepatitis C do not look like that." Seeff, who has been working on a study partially funded by Roche, added, "On the other hand, if you're trying to get the message across, one way is to make it look bad."

Relying on drug companies to sponsor public health campaigns is not good policy, said Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania.

Roche said nearly 56 million people have seen the ad as of April. Roche launched a national blitz last year in 250 newspapers and seven major magazines, and it put the ads on 4,000 billboards and 40,000 posters.

Back to other news for July 19, 2006

Adapted from:
Miami Herald
07.18.06; John Sullivan, Philadelphia Inquirer

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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