Pharma strikes—the war between online and offline healthcare has begun
If you have been trying to get medicines between late last night and this morning, you would’ve realised that pharmaceutical stores across the country have gone on strike. They have three reasons for this—to oppose online pharmacies, to speak up against the e-portal as mandated by the government, and to have their views on the Central drug act amendment, where the government has mandated the presence of pharmacies in all stores, be taken into consideration.
As of now, over eight lakh pharmacies are participating in this strike. As per GST regulations, the government has proposed setting up an online platform to regulate the sale of quality drugs, which pharmacists believe will only encourage the sale of fake drugs.
As per the new regulations, the government has requested pharmacists to upload details on the sale of the medicines and also pay a transaction fee towards the cost of running the portal. According to All India Organisation of Chemists and Druggists (AIOCD) President Jagannath Shinde, the strike is for the right reasons and has received support from all pharmacies.
Several news reports also suggest that over 600 pharmacists have been wearing black bands in protest but haven’t shut shop. Government hospitals have been advised to stock up on medicines.
Prashant Tandon, President of the Indian Internet Pharmacy Association (IIPA) and Founder of online pharma portal 1mg, believes that the present government is committed to reforming India's healthcare sector.
He also believes that the strike is rather inconvenient for patients and can cause serious repercussions. One of the main concerns as projected by the pharmacists is the fact that selling medicines online would mean the supply of fake medicines.
Contrary to this, however, Prashant says the e-pharma and online pharma models allow easy tracking and tracing of products. This, he believes, brings high accountability and compliance to the system.
“It is unfortunate that instead of leveraging these technologies to improve their business and the experience of patients, the AIOCD has chosen to take a negative stance,” he says.
As e-pharmacy players have been gaining serious traction, offline medical stores have been protesting against the online sale of medicines.
As per Prashant and other sources within the industry, the real reason for the protest is the health ministry notification endorsing the benefits of digital traceability in the pharmaceutical supply chain, which is a key benefit of the e-pharmacy model.
This would mean added infrastructure and more information transparency. From the beginning, one of the biggest roadblocks e-pharmacists have faced is the lack of a regulatory framework. Over the years, several e-pharmacists have been working closely with the government to address this gap.
The pharmaceutical business falls under the Drug and Cosmetics Act, 1940, put into effect long before the nation was introduced to the internet.
“A point to note is that the notification invited comments from all stakeholders, and is still under consideration of the ministry, so the action by AIOCD is just a very negative, premature, and unnecessary attempt to cause inconvenience. Many small pharmacy retailers are not in favour of this forced strike and are keen to work with platforms like ours, and I hope they are able to operate their businesses peacefully. We hope that the AIOCD realises that consumer interest is paramount and that protectionist measures that are against consumer interest and lead to poor quality and affordability are not going to work."