Chemists all over India on strike today
Over eight lakh chemists across the country will shut shop on Wednesday observing a day long nationwide strike to protest against the government's move to consider allowing online sale of medicines in the country.
The chemists refused to call off the strike despite intervention from the health minister JP Nadda, who spoke to the President of All India Organisation of Chemists & Druggists - the largest representation of drug retailers in the country - on Tuesday evening.
Though Nadda clarified that no decision in favour of e-pharmacies have been taken so far, chemists maintained the government failed to give an assurance to retailers that there would not be any amendments to accommodate online pharmacies under the Drugs & Cosmetics Act, 1940- which regulates sale of medicines in the country.
"There is no question of calling off the strike. The health minister spoke to me today but we have been apprising higher authorities for past few months. So far, there is no assurance from anyone, not even from the minister," AIOCD President J S Shinde told TOI late on Tuesday evening.
Shinde said chemists from across the country will hold protests at New Delhi's Jantar Mantar and Azad Maidan in Mumbai. Besides, there will be dharna pradarshan in all state capitals by chemists.
Calling internet pharmacy illegal and violation of Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940 - which allows sale of medicines only against prescription by doctors and only by licensed chemists - chemists with physical shops feel online pharmacies are not only posing a threat to their business but can also lead to sale of counterfeits, irrational usage of medicines and risk of adverse drug reactions or side effects.
"There is no means to keep a check on such sale," Shinde said.
AIOCD has already submitted a memorandum of demands to several authorities, including the Prime Minister's Office, the health ministry and the Drug Controller General of India.
The government has set up a sub-committee under the Drugs Consultative Committee which looks at issues related to Drugs & Cosmetics Act. The sub committee has a mandate to look into the possibility of allowing sale of prescription drugs through internet or e-pharmacies and if it requires specific changes in the law and guidelines to regulate such sales.
While the government is yet to take a final call on the issue, those who have forayed into the online pharmacy space feel it is unfair to create barriers for those who want to utilize such opportunities. "With the prominent rise of online and mobile centric consumption pattern, pharmacy cannot be insulated from this change of consumer behavior. If consumers perceive this as a more convenient and more value providing format, then there will be pressure on pharmacy retailers to cater to this demand," says Surendra Mantena, Chief Operating Officer, MedPlus Health Services.