Despite their expanding popularity and customer base, Indian online pharmacies have recently suffered at the hands of the Indian judiciary. Despite the fact that e-pharmacy accounts for barely 3% of all pharmaceutical sales in India, retail pharmacists’ organisations such as the All India Organization of Chemists and Druggists (AIOCD) have been vocal in their opposition. In an effort to legitimise online medication sales, the Union Health Ministry recently issued guidelines requiring online pharmacies in India to register with the Central Drugs Standard Control Organization (CDSCO), India’s primary licencing and regulating organisation for pharmaceutical sales. AIOCD responded with a harsh reaction, threatening to boycott medicines marketed by pharmaceutical companies that invest in online pharmacies.
The increased prevalence of chronic diseases in urban India is expected to boost the online pharmacy sector, outpacing its retail equivalents. When the Delhi High Court outlawed the online selling of pharmaceuticals across the country in December 2018, the huge price reductions and large choice of brands offered by online pharmacies in Indiahad already begun to emerge as a viable solution to this dilemma. In good faith, the Indian judiciary chose to protect safe pharmacy practise by recognising the possibility of damaging self-medication and the selling of unregulated drugs through internet platforms.
With e-commerce booming in India, online pharmacy is gaining popularity as well, despite a lack of well-defined laws and challenging growth conditions. The Drug & Cosmetics Act (1940) and the Pharmacy Act (1948) oversee the selling of pharmaceuticals in India, both of which were enacted decades before the internet.
The majority of retail pharmacists oppose online pharmacy, citing concerns about safety, a lack of dose recommendations, and the possibly unregulated sale of prescription pharmaceuticals. However, India’s retail pharmaceutical business has its own set of issues. Basic responsibilities, such as mandated patient counselling, have been overlooked. The pharmacist’s credibility is a key issue. While the legislation only requires a certified pharmacist in a pharmacy, this does not preclude the pharmacist’s relative or friend from assisting in the store.
Due to several “counselling challenges,” ranging from overwhelming workload to sheer inexperience, only a small percentage of Indian retail pharmacists engage in patient counselling activities. Many Indian online pharmacies provide more detailed drug information online than what is accessible in the “instructions on the box.” When it comes to the sale of drugs, pharmacists should be required to provide patient counselling. Nonetheless, both policymakers and the judiciary disregard this. The caveat that precludes all discussion on this topic is that there is currently no mechanism in place to compel mandatory patient counselling. As a result, rather than an outright ban on online pharmacies in India, the major difficulty in the e-pharmacy sector posed by a lack of pharmacological information necessitates a customised solution.
Therefore, e-pharmacies can address India’s unresolved drug access dilemma, given the country’s growing burden of communicable and noncommunicable diseases. However, more study is needed to corroborate this and build an evidence-based e-pharmacies policy.
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