There has been news reports in the media last month about a proposal from the Union health ministry to launch a refresher course for unqualified persons dispensing medicines in retail outlets. The move is in the context of reported non availability of pharmacists to work in medical shops in many parts of the country. The issue was brought up to the attention of the health ministry by All India Organization of Chemists & Druggists, the national body of pharmaceutical trade. AIOCD pointed out that thousands of retail chemist shops in the north and north east are facing this problem and may have to close down as their license renewals are due this month. States which are facing this problem are West Bengal, Assam, Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and Orissa. At a recent meeting, the trade body urged the ministry to launch a short term course for those persons who are not qualified pharmacists but are already handling medicines in these states. The ministry’ plan is to issue certificates to these candidates on completion of the course making them eligible to obtain retail drug licences. With such a course, retail shops in these states would be able to overcome the shortage of pharmacists. This initiative of health ministry is part Central government’s Skill Development Mission which has already developed several courses for healthcare professionals. This course is expected to help utilisation of locally available talent after skilling them properly.
What merit the ministry’s proposal has is indeed a debatable issue. Pharmacist bodies across the country are objecting to the move as according to them there are thousands of degree and diploma holders in pharmacy available in the country and they are unemployed. The proposal will also be in violation of the provisions of Pharmacy Act and Drugs & Cosmetics Act which stipulate presence of a qualified pharmacist to dispense medicines in a retail shop. Therefore, persons without a degree or diploma in pharmacy should not be allowed to dispense medicines with the qualification of just a short term course. Pharmacy Council of India has not taken a clear stand on this controversial proposal so far. Now the question is whether unemployed qualified pharmacists are willing to take up a job as a pharmacist at the retail chemists shops in urban and semi urban areas. Most of them are small run by individuals and not by companies and therefore a degree holder in pharmacy may not take up a job in such a shop. And owners of chemists shops in the country are either unable to or not willing to pay a salary expected by the pharmacists. The issue of addressing non availability of pharmacists in the less developed regions of the country needs to be done in consideration of these factors.