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Sun 17 Feb 2008 03:38 PM

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Rules of attraction

Policing medical advertising in an emerging market might be a difficult task, but the UAE's MoH still has a long way to go.

Policing medical advertising in an emerging market might be a difficult task, but a recent radio interview showed just how far the UAE's Ministry of Health (MoH) still has to go.

Listeners of Dubai Eye's business breakfast show were recently treated to the previously untold benefits of magnets in healthcare. In a bizarre conversation, sandwiched between international business updates, a representative of Magnetic Technologies informed baffled presenters of the role magnetised products had to play in the "treatment and preventive maintenance" of diseases ranging from chronic prostatitis to radiculitis.

Yet this didn't stop them from referring listeners on to www.magneticeast.com for more information. Since March 2007, health-related sites in the UAE have had to obtain a fee-based approval from the MoH before advertising online for products or treatments.

"A copy of the final version of the electronic portal must be reviewed by the MoH," Dr Abdul Kareem Zarouni, director, medical advertising department, said at the time. Considering Magnetic Technologies' online claim that "hundreds thousand of people are using our magnetic devices for health," you would think the MoH might be uncomfortable about its statement that magnetic water showed "80% efficiency when treating radiation exposures...[in] patients suffering from cancer."

The MoH's policy has come under fire from private clinics, with many accusing the government of indirect taxation and of unfairly penalising smaller facilities. The introduction of advertising regulations is an obvious necessity, but it is also a significant cost for private physicians, which, for the most part, remain within the realm of evidence-based medicine.

Medical information must be vetted for its validity, but Magnetic Technologies is proof that too many are getting through the (inter)net. If the MoH wants to provide value for money to its industry, it should clamp down on such quackery, or risk attracting more charlatans to the sector.

While a formal investigation into the merits of the "rectal magnetotron" might raise a chuckle among the medical community, the fact Magnetic Technologies is seemingly flaunting government regulations will be less amusing to doctors who have paid for their advertising legitimacy.

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