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Health Ministry meet explores middle-path between online pharmacies and retail chemists  

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India’s Health Ministry has initiated discussions with e-pharmacies and brick & mortar retailers and chemists on the way forward. 

Discussions held earlier in August saw chemists raise objections to deep discounting practices of e-pharmacies, while the Health Ministry officials were concerned about select practices of these e-pharmacies like allowing sale of medicines without proper prescriptions and so on. Maintaining privacy of user data across these platforms is another repeated concern that had cropped up during the meeting. 

The e-pharmacies were reportedly asked to present their case too. “The CDSCO (Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation) held a stakeholder meeting earlier this month (August). Viewpoints of chemist shops and e-pharmacies and Health Ministry concerns were heard, raised, and discussed. There is a middle path that is being looked at, a way forward where both offline and online can be accommodated with regulations coming in play,” said an official who was present. 

While there are some who want a complete ban on e-pharmacies, others suggest that US-type regulations come into play, where there are digital prescriptions and these can be universally accessed, but with strict guidelines surrounding sharing of user data. 

“A blanket ban could have adverse impact,” said an official adding that “deep discounting and predatory practices need to be reined in.” 

 Indian drug regulations do not allow for discounted medicine sales or sales of medicines above MRP. 

Incidentally, online pharmacies representatives had held a discussion in Goa at one of the G20 pre-events. Discussions surrounded new regulations including online sale of medicines. Pharmacies were reportedly asked to share a formal presentation to the government on the benefits of e-pharmacies and their compliance status.

The CDSCO had issued show-cause warnings to 20 such players in February for allegedly violating guidelines by selling pharmaceuticals online. Following this, companies reached out to the Health Ministry through industry organisations to explain their position. 

The Health Ministry has also updated the draft of the New Drugs, Medical Devices, and Cosmetics Bill and it allows the government to “regulate, restrict, or prohibit” any online sale, stocking, or distribution of any drug by sending a notification. The draft was distributed to government agencies for internal consultations, and it superseded the proposed legislation that was released to the public for stakeholder opinions in July 2022.

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