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E- pharmacy in India - IAS Academy in Coimbatore

Why in News?

In February 2023, the Ministry of Health issued show cause notices to at least 20 companies, including Tata-1mgFlipkart, Apollo, PharmEasy, Amazon, and Reliance Netmeds for selling medicines online.

What is the Current Status of E-pharmacy in India?

  • About:
    • The growth of e-pharmacy in India has been significant in recent years and is expected to grow at a robust growth rate of 21.28% compound annual growth rate during 2021-2027.
    • The main factors driving this growth include increasing internet and smartphone penetration, rising healthcare costs, and a growing demand for convenience and accessibility.
  • E-Pharmacies' Growth:
    • The acute need for doorstep delivery of drugs was felt during Covid-19. Nearly 8.8 million households used home delivery services during the lockdown.
      • E-pharmacies call themselves facilitators of doorstep delivery and claim tie-ups with retail chemists for vending medicines.
  • Concerns:
    • Impact on Quality of Drugs:
      • The sale, stock, offer for sale or distribution of drugs through online, internet or other electronic platforms without a licence have potential impact on quality of drugs and pose risk to public health.
      • As there arises a cope of misuse of drugs through self-medication and indiscriminate use of the drugs.
    • No Statutory Backing:
      • The Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940 regulates the import, manufacturing and distribution of drugs in India.
        • However, there is no statutory definition of “e-pharmacy” either under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940 or the Pharmacy Act, 1948.
      • However, the electronic sale of physician-prescribed drugs from online drug store sites is expressed under the IT Act, 2000. 
  • Regulation of E-Pharmacies:
    • The Draft e-pharmacy rules were floated by the Ministry of Health in 2018.
      • Multiple court orders, including those from Bombay, Madras, Delhi, and Patna High Court, have called for regulating e-pharmacies.
    • The 172nd Parliamentary Standing Committee report released in June 2022, deemed it "appalling" that e-pharmacy rules had not been notified.