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Doctors: Why won't state intervene over misleading medical information?

A website advertising a product in an article citing a nonexistent dermatologist.
A website advertising a product in an article citing a nonexistent dermatologist. Source: screen capture

The Estonian Society for Dermatovenereologists (ENSAS) has sent a memorandum to the Consumer Protection Board, the Health Board and the Ministry of Social Affairs in which it expresses dismay over the fact that the state has not responded in any way to the prolific advertisement and sales in the public sphere of non-evidence based medical treatment methods.

In its memorandum, which was sent to the state institutions in mid-August, ENSAS drew attention to the fact that people in Estonia are increasingly interested in non-evidence based treatment methods and are using products that are potentially hazardous to one's health and for commercial reasons are promoted among health products on websites citing the recommendations of made-up doctors and unverified information.

"Misleading information is being provided in online marketing regarding products that are not registered in Estonia and are being advertised using fictitious specialists," wrote ENSAS President Terje Kukk in the appeal, which was sent on behalf of the association board. "For example, the product Psorilin is being advertised as a treatment of psoriasis in the article 'Psoriasis: How to free yourself from this deadly autoimmune disorder? Interview with Estonia's top dermatologist!' with a Dr. Andre Metsa, who is not registered with Estonia's registry of healthcare professionals, speak nothing of his leading position. There is no dermatologist by that name."

Another example cited by the association is the promotion of chlorine dioxide, marketed as Miracle Mineral Supplement or, as it is popularly known, MMS, and dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO), which proponents use to attempt to treat birthmarks and relieve the symptoms of chronic skin conditions, among other things.

"Although this matter has been an issue for years already, we would like to express our dismay over the fact that the state has to date been unable to figure out measures to prevent this," the memo read. "We also lack information regarding whether and how the Health Board has attempted to solve this problem."

The ENSAS believes that state institutions should intensify awareness efforts aimed at the public to help prevent people from putting their health at risk and encourage people to use only evidence-based treatment methods and products.

The association also forwarded to the state institutions extensive copies of posts from a pro-MMS and -DMSO group in which users ask each other for advice regarding treating skin conditions and are consistently recommended unproven methods of treatment. Among other such examples, users use MMS and DMSO to "treat" psoriasis and skin cancer as well as remove birth marks.

The state institutions will have until mid-September to respond to ENSAS' appeal. To date, not one of the three agencies has yet responded.

Consumer Protection Board: Fake products being investigated

Pille Kalda, public relations specialist at the Consumer Protection Board, told ERR that attempts are made to sell various fake products via numerous different channels.

If a website is registered outside of Estonia, however, there is nothing they can do to get a website promoting misleading and false information and selling fake products taken down.

The agency does has a number of investigations open regarding customers who have ordered fake products from advertisements that appeared in the paper edition of daily Õhtuleht, such as magnetic insoles and tick repellent bracelets that have not provided the expected results. Despite protections outlined in the Consumer Protection Act, the customers have not been able to return the products or have their money refunded, either.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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