What ban? Online pharmacies sweeten the pill in Delhi

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Customers do not care for laws or guidelines on online pharmacies. And clearly, the recent Delhi High Court ban on sale of drugs and prescribed medicines by e-pharmacies does not seem to have deterred them either.

The discounts, doorstep delivery, accountability in case of delay in services or non-availability of a particular brand or combination of drugs and the fact that all this is available at the click of a button clinch the deal, say loyal e-pharmacy customers.

Online sale of drugs in India is valued at approximately 2,000 crore. Figures released by the Union Health Ministry show that this is less than 0.5% of the current retail pharmacy landscape.

“Delhi accounts for 10%-15% of the e-pharma business in India, which is growing at the rate of over 100%,” noted the Ministry.

Ban not a solution

“You cannot ban convenience just because there are no rules in place to prevent misuse. The government has to have its finger on the pulse of emerging markets and act fast to bring in regulations to benefit both businessmen and customers. Imposing a ban is not the solution,” said R.N. Dhingra, a businessman who has been suffering from diabetes for 15 years, and regularly buys medicines and other medical supplies from online pharmacies.

Mr. Dhingra added, “It is difficult for me to take time out from my busy schedule to buy medicines and other supplies. The Internet allows me to compare and select my medicines, etc., as per my convenience. Sometimes, the delivery happens on the same day itself. Nothing beats that.”


Safety at risk

According to a plea in the Delhi High Court, “Online pharmacies are operating without a drug licence and cannot be regulated in the current regime. Unregulated and unlicensed sale of medicines will increase the risk of spurious, misbranded and sub-standard drugs being sold.”

The plea claimed that several online pharmacies were selling prescription drugs in large numbers without valid prescriptions, which can put the safety and health of consumers at risk. Further, the plea urged the authorities to take action against any online pharmacies distributing, selling or exhibiting drugs on the Internet.

New draft rules

A recent order by the Ministry noted that online pharmacies will need to register with the Centre to sell medicines through the Internet. The new draft rules require online pharmacies to register with the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) and obtain a trade licence — applicable across India — from any State government.

As per draft rules, e-pharmacies have to register with the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) for a licence which will be valid for three years. Neither do the draft rules permit e-pharmacies to sell narcotic drugs, tranquilliser and Schedule X drugs, nor are they allowed to advertise.

The Ministry has also decided to make amendments to the Drugs and Cosmetic Rules, 1945, to include e-pharmacies which are becoming popular across the country thanks to e-commerce.


A few offer support

Thirty-year-old Anju Kumar, a public relations officer who is currently on maternity leave, said: “I only buy from established e-pharma sites. For mothers who have small children and are constantly in short supply of medicines, online pharmacies are a boon when it comes to time and sleep. My friends and colleagues also use e-pharma sites extensively because of discounts and ease of doing business.”

“Local pharmacies have pulled up their socks since the arrival of e-pharmacies, with many offering discounts to regular customers, buy-back policies and even delivering medicines, etc., at home,” said Manu Arya from East Nizamuddin.

She has been buying medicines online for her mother, who is a diabetic and suffers from hypertension.

“You cannot ignore convenience and the very reasonable rates offered by online pharmacies,” she added.

However, doctors have adopted a more cautious approach.

Former Indian Medical Association (IMA) president K.K. Aggarwal said, “The rules are clear — e-pharma sites cannot offer consultation nor can we regulate the chances of misuse of drugs.”

Challenge to chemists

Meanwhile, local chemists said any regulations favouring e-pharmacies will severely impact the livelihood of nearly a million chemists, distributors and their employees.

However, some like Simranjit Singh Gandhi, CEO of a Delhi-based IT company Aprazer InfoTech, who started his career by operating a small retail pharmacy in central Delhi’s Old Rajendra Nagar, was quick to realise the challenges in store for local chemists with emergence of e-pharmacies.

“It became apparent that apart from losing their business to e-pharmacies, chemists will also lose touch with their customers due to lack of a digital interface,” Mr. Gandhi said.

Digital platform

To address the concerns of local pharmacies, Aprazer InfoTech developed a digital platform called AapKa Chemist. The platform empowers local chemists to receive online enquiries from customers, provide higher discounts and offer superfast delivery of medicines.

Customers will be able to raise queries with nearby chemists and get discounts on drugs via the website or app. The digital platform allows customers to opt for self-pickup of medicines from a nearby chemist store. Local pharmacies can also coordinate directly with customers and ensure that medicines are dispensed as per the prescription and guidelines under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act,1940.

“Almost all thriving businesses today exist in the digital space. A majority of consumers today prefer to shop online and readily adopt online concepts in the blink of an eye. Buying medicines involves a human touch between a chemist and the customer, which no technology can replace,” said Mr. Gandhi, adding that his company believes that e-pharmacies will never replace the experience and significance of local pharmacies in the healthcare ecosystem.

“Online pharmacies do not deliver medicines to remote areas. Medicines usually get delivered within 12-72 hours after placing the order, which is an unrealistic timeline. Acknowledging nearby chemists only in case of emergencies is unfair. Given the right support, local chemists are capable of offering higher discounts and delivering superior services to their customers more efficiently. AapKa Chemist will provide a level playing field and give a definite edge to local pharmacies over e-pharmacies,” he said.

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Printable version | Jun 9, 2021 6:35:23 PM |

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