On regulating online sale of drugs in India

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Source: The post is based on an article On regulating online sale of drugs in India” published in The Hindu on 1st March 2023.

Syllabus: GS 2 – Governance

Relevance: regulating e-pharmacies

News: The Ministry of Health has issued a show cause notice to pharmacy companies selling medicines online. The Health Minister has also said that e-pharmacies should be closed down.

Is banning e-pharmacies a viable option?

E-pharmacies flourished during the covid pandemic in the year 2020 where the need for home delivery of medicine was felt. The Ministry of Home affairs at that time issued orders to continue to operate.

The customers availing the benefits of online deliveries have also increased with the years.

Therefore, banning e-pharmacies is not a viable option because there is a possibility that some of these businesses will go underground if banned.

Hence, instead of banning, regulating them is a viable option.

What measures have been taken by the government to regulate e-pharmacy?

The draft e-pharmacy rules were brought by the Ministry of Health in 2018.

The rules were finalised, public comments were taken into consideration and they were ready to be notified.

However, when draft rules were referred to a Group of Ministers, the matter was considered sensitive due to political reasons.

Hence, despite orders from multiple courts to regulate e-pharmacies, the government had not notified the regulations.

How are e-pharmacies competing with offline pharmacies?

There has been tough competition between e-pharmacies and offline chemist shops due to the low profit margin over medicines.

Therefore, in order to reduce competition, online pharmacies have started to buy big and small wholesale drug distributors. They have also started to open their pharmacy shops.

However, e-pharmacies have also witnessed loss since 2015. It was the year when e-pharmacies came up in the market.

Moreover, looking at the online pharmacy companies, even offline chemist shops have started to offer home delivery options to their customers by introducing their own store apps.

They even give customers options to order medicines over WhatsApp.

What can be the course of action?

Looking at the demand, it is not viable to completely ban e-pharmacies. Therefore, the best option is to regulate them by bringing up laws.

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