The plan to set up a registry of e-pharmacies for all genuine online traders in pharmaceutical products in the country is a step in the right direction. The move by the DCGI is in consideration of the recommendations made by the Dr Harshdeep Kamble subcommittee to put in place a national portal for registration of online pharmacies. A registry for e-pharmacies is expected to help regulated growth of online trade in pharmaceuticals ensuring patient safety by checking entry of rogue e-pharmacy players and counterfeit drugs in supply chain. The Indian Internet Pharmacy Association, some time back, had urged the subcommittee to set up a registry of online pharmacies to ensure clarity on the legitimate players and frame the necessary guidelines. Online pharmacies are currently governed by Information Technology Act, 2000 and Drugs & Cosmetics Act. In the meanwhile, DCGI has directed all the state drug regulators to keep a tab on online pharmacies selling prescription drugs until the guidelines for this new business are framed. All the drug controllers of state and Union Territories have been directed to keep a strict watch on online sale of drugs and take action if there are found to violate provisions of the D&C Act and Rules.
All India Organization of Chemists & Druggists has been objecting to operations of online trade in pharmaceuticals from the very beginning on the ground that non prescription sales of antibiotics and other life saving drugs will ultimately affect the health of poor patients. The contention of this national body of retailers and wholesalers has been that most of the e-pharmacies which had come up in the past three to four years, are indulging in sales of medicines without the supervision of pharmacists. No doubt that internet sales of medicines will be of great advantage especially to millions of aged patients living alone in their residences. For the traditional retailers in pharmaceuticals, the real concern is the loss of business with the entry of online traders and not the patient safety. Most of the 7 lakh odd retail chemists in the country are small operators with no air conditioned premises and staff and surviving on marginal profits. Increasing number of online traders in this segment can definitely hit the small retailers in the long run if the online traders operate ethically along with quality service. Many of the small retailers may even forced to close down. That is an issue to be considered by the government with due seriousness. The new trading platform can also be used by the unscrupulous elements in the trade to route substandard and spurious medicines. A stringent monitoring plan of the online trade across the country has to be in place to ensure that technology is not misused by the irresponsible traders.