With growing demand to track and monitor the sale of drugs through online mode, the government is working its way to amend the Drugs and Cosmetics Act 1940 to accommodate the changes that the 21st century need.
By next January, all online pharmacies will be brought under government control and be governed by a set of rules and regulations just like chemist shops are. The Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) is working towards developing its online platform and the system should be in place by the end of this December.
“With the advent of e-pharmacy, there is a need to amend the Drugs and Cosmetics Act 1940 as it does not differentiate between offline and online pharmacies. The government is working towards amending the existing law to develop a framework where the consumers are benefited,” said Additional Secretary in the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare K B Aggarwal.
Aggarwal was speaking during the launch of a report at a session on ‘E-pharmacy in India – Last Mile Access of Medicines’, organized by the Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) in New Delhi.
E-pharmacy will allow easy availability of drugs at all hours much to the benefit of consumers. “But there are a host of issues to be taken care of like legitimacy of e-pharmacies, patients’ safety and privacy, misuse of e-pharmacy and adverse effect on retailers’ business,” he added.
“The need of the hour is to create e-pharmacy guidelines so that there is a proper tracking and monitoring of sales of drugs, authenticity of online pharmacists and prescriptions, details of patients, helping in reducing drug abuse and counterfeiting,” he said. “We are also toying with the idea of linking the consumer’s Aadhaar number with the e-pharmacy so as to will rule out all illegalities that may occur due to online selling of medicines,” said Aggarwal.
“The government is working towards drafting Drugs & Cosmetics Act 2016 to meet the current regulatory requirements related to safety, efficacy and quality of drugs,” said Dr S Eswara Reddy, Joint Drugs Controller, Central Drugs Standard Control Organization.
“Pharmaceuticals is a priority sector, therefore it’s critical to ensure that its regulations are strengthened,” he added, stating that there should also be a standard format of prescriptions.
“E-pharmacy would benefit consumers as they will have medicines without having to leave their homes. With the use of technology and access to inventory of multiple stores at a time, e-pharmacies can aggregate supplies, making otherwise-hard-to-find medicines available to consumers across the country,” remarked Jayant Singh, Director of consultancy firm Frost and Sullivan.
“There is a need to work on Direct to Consumer (DTC) approach as with the emergence of e-pharmacy, many issues will emerge that would need to be deliberated upon. In the EU, legitimate online pharmacies have to carry a specific logo to conduct business. We can have a similar approach here in India,” remarked Dr Manisha Shridhar, Regional Advisor, World Health Organisation.
In his presentation on the consumer survey, Afaq Hussain, Director, BRIEF Market Research, said 90 per cent of the respondents were willing to buy medicines online as e-pharmacy means convenience of ordering from mobile applications; all required medicines are available at one store/website; home delivery of medicines; better quality of medicines; better pricing and e-bill for tacking and reimbursement.
“We need to look at the e-pharmacy sector in a comprehensive manner keeping in view the entire healthcare chain. The Aadhar number should be integrated when a person seeks drugs from e-pharmacy to monitor drug abuse and its misuse,” said Arvind Gupta, Founder & Head, Digital India Foundation. Gupta also called for standardizing labs to create digi lockers where the patients’ records could be safely documented for reference by doctors.
Prashant Tandon, Founder & CEO, 1MG, Core Member, FICCI E-Commerce Committee, said that digital tracking and monitoring will take Digital India forward. The existing Drugs and Cosmetics Act does not address many concerns, hence incremental steps were required to ensure access of quality medicines at affordable price to all.
Dr. A Didar Singh, Secretary General, FICCI, said that there was an urgent need to nurture the e-pharmacy sector with the right set of policy frameworks and guidelines.