The All Indian Organisation of Chemist and Druggists (AIOCD), on Friday (August 14), wrote to Jeff Bezos calling out the launch of Amazon’s epharmacy business as “illegal”.
The association, which has nearly 850K Indian chemists, noted that the government had only allowed sale of medicines online during the lockdown as it amounted to an emergency, and that home delivering medicines would be in contempt of the Delhi high court’s decision that put a stay on online pharmacies. Besides this, the association noted that there is no criteria for epharmacies under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act of 1940.
“We have also given you enough evidence above to prove our point. We also have a full dossier ready on this subject and entering this space can bring on legal implications which can bring disrepute to Amazon’s name,” the organisation said.
Amazon launched its online pharmacy service named ‘Amazon Pharmacy’ this Thursday. The online pharmacy will be piloted in Bengaluru first and will be expanded to other cities later. With this, the company will be in direct competition with 1mg, NetMeds, Medlife and PharmEasy, along with other startups in this segment.
Even Reliance is looking to expand its grocery delivery venture JioMart to include other categories including medicines. According to media reports, Reliance is also in talks to acquire NetMeds for somewhere between $130 Mn to $150 Mn, while Medlife and PharmEasy are reportedly contemplating a merger to get a larger pie of the market.
Govt Unclear About Epharmacies Guidelines
In September 2018, the health ministry had released the draft rules for online pharmacies for the first time. The rules made it mandatory for online pharmacies and cosmetics stores to obtain licenses within two months of the notification. Post that only licensed stores will be allowed to operate in India. The government was supposed to launch epharmacies guidelines to regulate the sector, but the guidelines is still nowhere in sight.
Even the Indian government has been sending mixed signals about its stand on epharmacies.
In May 2020, the Indian government suspended the Aarogya Setu Mitr portal, which promoted the online sale of medicines, following objections by nearly 8.5 lakh brick-and-mortar retail chemists across India in June 2020.
Aarogya Setu Mitr had listed online pharmacies like Netmeds, PharmaEasy, Medlife and 1mg, to offer medicines online. The petitioners had claimed that the Mitr portal was acting as a marketing tool for epharmacies, and does not mention offline pharmacies.
On the other hand, Modi, today (on August 15), launched National Digital Health Mission (NDHM) to revolutionise the Indian health sector. Under this, the government will allow the patients to access health services remotely through teleconsultations and epharmacies while offering other health-related benefits. Ironically, AIOCD has also marked Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other government officials in the letter to Amazon CEO Bezos.