Regulating online sales of Drugs

Regulating online sales of Drugs

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 right solution?
 E-pharmacies flourished during the pandemic 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 opting for online deliveries have also increased with the years. Therefore, banning epharmacies is not a viable option because there is a possibility that some of these businesses will go underground if banned.
 Instead of banning, regulating them is a viable option.

How has government intervened?
 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 has not notified the regulations.

How are e-pharmacies faring 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 when e-pharmacies first 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 while also giving customers option to order medicines over WhatsApp.

Way Forward
 The e-pharmacies are in nascent stage of operations and their benefits are yet to be utilized fully. Thus, it would be wise to regulate them. 

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