With 8.5 lakh chemist shops likely to remain shut across India Tuesday, patients will be forced to battle long queues at government pharmacies or hospitals to buy medicines. The All India Organisation of Chemists and Druggists (AIOCD) has called for a nation-wide protest against the Centre’s move to regularise online sale of drugs. In Maharashtra, at least 55,000 chemists are likely to remain on strike. Government hospitals expect a huge load of patients who need medicines urgently. Claiming they had held several rounds of discussions with the Centre, AIOCD president Jagannath Shinde said, “There is insufficient infrastructure for e-pharmacy in India.
The association believes that e-portals can cause scarcity of medicines in the country.” Following a government public notice in April inviting suggestions on the online sale of drugs, the AIOCD submitted a representation to the Union health ministry. Their biggest worry is a massive cut in profit margins owing to the stiff competition from e-portals, the body says.
In the past three years, at least a dozen e-pharmacy websites have come up, providing an option to upload a prescription, which will be verified by a pharmacist and the medicines delivered at customers’ door-step. Extra discounts on online purchase have also attracted buyers. Retail chemist shop owners claim online sale makes it difficult to verify drug quality, and makes sale of psychotropic substances easier. However, according to the Indian Internet Pharmacy Association (IIPA), an umbrella body for e-pharma portals, e-pharmacy will make the process of drug dispensing transparent and boost accountability.
“We are happy that the government is committed to reform the healthcare sector in India and not just in online space. Having said that, the strike will be very inconvenient for patients and can even cause serious repercussions. As an online healthcare company, we can work with the government on healthcare data and patient reforms,” said Prashant Tandon, President of IIPA and founder of PharmEasy website.