E-pharmacies told to stop sale without licence

NEW DELHI: Stopping , the drug regulator has issued orders prohibiting any such sale without a valid licence. The order is likely to force to shut operations as in the absence of any regulation or law for online sales of medicines, neither the Centre nor state authorities can issue licence to e-pharmacies.

In an order to states and Union Territories, the Drug Controller General of India has asked authorities to be vigilant of online sales and take immediate action in case of violations. TOI has reviewed the order and the letter sent to state drug controllers.

The proposed regulation for online sale of medicines is still under consideration of a group of ministers (GoM) headed by defence minister. Unless the regulations are finalised and notified by the health ministry, there are no provisions under the drug law for the drug regulator or state authorities to issue licenses allowing e-pharmacies to operate.

In its letter to states, the Centre has cited “the order” by the Delhi high court issued on December 12, 2018, in the matter of Dr Zaheer Ahmed Vs Union of India. The Court had ordered a ban on the sale of drugs online across India, in response to a petition filed by Delhi-based dermatologist Ahmed.

Creating further pressure, The All India Organisation of Chemists and Druggists– a powerful lobby representing over 9 lakh brick and-mortar chemists and retail pharmacy outlets – have also asked their state bodies to be vigilant of violations and ensure action by state authorities. “All affiliated states are requested to appeal to their respective state drug controllers to take stringent action against all online players, operating in respective states,” AIOCD asked its members in a letter sent on Monday.

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E-pharmacies – already concerned over the delay from government in formulating regulations – say the move will not only impact consumers but also over 30,000 skilled professionals employed with the sector.

As per the industry estimates, e-pharmacy sector is catering to around 50 lakh patients per month and is growing rapidly attracting further investments. The current market for online sale of medicines is pegged at around Rs 2,000-3,000 crore, projected to grow at about 20% annually by 2024. Though the offline chemists and retailers have been strongly opposing e-pharmacies raising concerns about illegal prescriptions and misuse of medicines, various studies have shown encouraging trends with more people buying medicines online.

The proposed regulations framed by the health ministry suggest allowing online platforms to co-exist with brick-and-mortar chemist retailers by not allowing e-pharmacies to stock medicines and rather source it from the offline players.

It also proposes mandatory registration of such online portals as well as maintenance of information regarding the transactions and prescriptions against sale of medicines.
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