ONLINE SALE OF DRUGS IN INDIA
1st March, 2023 Health
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- The Ministry of Health pulled up at least twenty companies including Tata-1mg, Flipkart, Apollo, PharmEasy, Amazon and Reliance Netmeds, by issuing them a show cause notice, for selling medicines online.
- This happened after the All India Organisation of Chemists and Druggists (AIOCD), a powerful lobby of over 12 lakh pharmacists, threatened to launch a country-wide agitation if the government didn’t act.
Online Sale of Drugs
- The acute need for door-step delivery of drugs was felt during COVID-19.
- The year 2020 marked a watershed moment for the growth of e-pharmacies as the Ministry of Home Affairs issued orders for them to continue to operate. It saw nearly 8.8 million households using home delivery services during lockdown.
- The Centre is of the view that online sale of drugs without a doctor's prescription or even otherwise, poses threats to the public health including drug abuse, especially among youth. Many instances of drug abuse, especially among youth have surfaced lately.
- It's a great risk to national security as well as the online data can be misused for criminal activities by promoting addictive medicines.
- The government has been receiving various representations raising concerns regarding sale of drugs via online platforms in contravention to the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940 & rules there under.
- Some drugs are also being sold online which are only allowed for sale by retail under a valid prescription of a registered medical practitioner and supplied under the supervision of a pharmacist.
- Not just adults, children too use the internet, and this may cause severe health hazards in case we don’t put a ban on online sales.
Response from the end of Government and Judiciary
Draft e-Pharmacy Rules
- The draft e-pharmacy rules, which were originally intended to whip e-pharmacy businesses into shape were floated by the Ministry of Health in 2018.
- The rules were finalised, public comments were taken into consideration and they were almost on the brink of being notified.
- But the proposal was abruptly shoved into cold storage, after being referred to a Group of Ministers as the matter was considered ‘sensitive,’.
Orders from various Courts
- The Delhi High Court in 2018 had ordered a ban of online sale of drugs across the country. There are cases in various courts in this regard requesting to prohibit the online sale of drugs.
- Multiple court orders including those from Bombay, Madras, Delhi and Patna High Court have called for regulating e-pharmacies.
172nd Parliamentary Standing Committee
- The Report found it ‘appalling,’ that e-pharmacy rules had not been notified even after four years of the draft being introduced.
Show Cause Notice from Health Ministry
- Recently, Health ministry issued show cause notices to more than a dozen of companies including biggies like Amazon, Flipkart, Practo, Tata1mg, PharmEasy, Apollo, Zeelabs and Healthcart etc for selling drugs online without necessary licences.
Is a blanket ban on e-pharmacies a viable option?
- Banning e-pharmacies would be like throwing the baby out with the bath water.
- The demand for online delivery of drugs is burgeoning. There is a possibility that some of these businesses will go underground if banned, because people are not going to stop ordering medicines online anytime soon.
- One can’t wish away the sale of drugs online by threatening to ban businesses, instead of regulating the sector.
- In the past eight years, the market penetration of e-pharmacies has seen a growth from 3% to 5%. It is an important option for consumers for buying chronic care medicines for diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiac issues, and so on.
- Hence, an outright ban on heaving e-pharmacies to the hellbox must be avoided. It goes against the government’s intent of building digital infrastructure as a key pillar driving India’s long-term growth strategy.
- Moreover, the potential of India’s over $344 million e-pharmacy market is promising. It’s expected to grow at an enviable 40–45%, all because of the surging internet connectivity, mobile phone penetration, government initiatives and rising investments.
- While regulating drugs and medicines is crucial to public health and safety, the efficient and legitimate functioning of e-pharmacies can be ensured with comprehensive norms.
- It’s the lack of unambiguous laws regulating, controlling and monitoring online players that can lead to an adverse effect on the health of the nation.
Q) What are the concerns associated with the e-pharmacy Industry in India? Give suggestions to overcome those issues.