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Female impotence: Firms under fire

Viagra: Clamour for the drug has brought sales of $1.5 billion a year.
Viagra: Clamour for the drug has brought sales of $1.5 billion a year.

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Drugs companies have been accused of "creating" the disease of female impotence to help form a lucrative market for Viagra-style treatments aimed at women.

An article in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) says the pharmaceutical industry has funded and driven an effort for the last six years to have the theory of "female sexual dysfunction" clinically confirmed and publicly accepted.

"The corporate sponsored creation of a new disease is not a new phenomenon but the making of female sexual dysfunction is the freshest, clearest example we have," says Australian medical journalist Ray Moynihan in the BMJ on Friday.

"A cohort of researchers with close ties to drug companies are working with colleagues in the pharmaceutical industry to develop and define a new category of human illness at meetings heavily sponsored by companies racing to develop new drugs," adds Moynihan, who is based in Washington D.C.

Moynihan says the scientific evidence for female sexual dysfunction is often misplaced or absent. He says females' sexual problems are unnecessarily "medicalised," and their incidence inflated.

Despite these concerns, the media has enthusiastically picked up a figure, criticised by many experts as exaggerated, that 43 percent of women over 18 suffer from sexual dysfunction, Moynihan says. The figure is from a controversial 1992 University of Chicago survey.

Sex 'is like dancing'

Moynihan quoted the director of the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University, Dr. John Bancroft, as saying lack of sex drive is in many cases a healthy and functional response for women faced with stress, tiredness, or threatening behaviour from their partners.

Dr. Leonore Tiefer, clinical associated professor of psychiatry at New York University, told Moynihan: "Sex is like dancing. If you break an ankle while you're dancing you go to a doctor. But your doctor doesn't take a dance history and wouldn't advise you whether your dancing is normal.

"The medical model is about defining what's healthy and what's sick -- but sex isn't like that."

The article points to the huge markets in anti-impotence drugs. Pfizer reported $1.5 billion Viagra sales in 2001 and Bayer and Lilly-ICOS are expected to have annual markets of $1 billion each for similar drugs, Moynihan says.

Dr Mitra Boolell, Medical Director at Pfizer's UK operation in Sandwich, southern England, said it did not matter whether female sexual dysfunction was called a disease, a condition or a dysfunction, it was very common among women and caused a lot of distress and unhappiness.

"It is a very complex condition and we are only just beginning to understand the impact it has on women and some of the ways we can help them."

He said that in any case knowledge of the condition had pre-dated Viagra having first been named at a conference in 1992 attended by the World Health Organization.



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