India's pharmacies launch pre-emptive protest to online drug sales

All India Organisation of Chemists and Druggists president J.S. Shinde

China's bureaucrats are reportedly plotting steadily to open up the market to online drug sales with mega electronic retailers and Alibaba ($BABA) already placing bets.

But in India more than half a million retail drug sellers plan a pre-emptive move to warn off any moves by its own bureaucrats to do the same.

"Online sales of medicines can cause big havoc in the country as it is easy to tamper with the prescriptions and we will fight against any such move to allow sale of drugs online," J.S. Shinde, president of the All India Organisation of Chemists and Druggists, told Business Today.

Shinde told Business Today that sternly worded letters were sent to the prime minister, health minister the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority, the Drugs Controller General of India, and all state drug controllers as well as chief ministers.

At stake for India is a mix of e-commerce startups looking to imitate success in online sales seen in China and the West as well as a desire by the government for lower prices.

India's minister for oversight of pharmaceuticals, Ananth Kumar, recently noted that 350 additional drugs had been brought under price controls in the past 10 months and other plans are already driving down costs.

He said in an interview that 98 Jan Aushadhi centers already are open to sell generic lifesaving drugs and work is underway to have 3,000 centers open in a few years. In addition, Kumar said, the government is providing incentives to attract more drugmakers to the bulk-drug business to reduce reliance on imports.

India Prime Minister Narendra Modi

In the interview with DeshGujarat, Kumar said he plans to urge Prime Minister Narendra Modi to change the ministry's name to Chemical, Fertilizer and Pharma to better reflect the major work it is doing in making medicines available.

But e-pharmacies see a potential loophole in the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940, and Drugs and Magic Remedies and Objectionable Advertisement Act, 1945.

That's because while the rules require a licensed retailer to sell prescription drugs, nowhere does it say drugs cannot be sold via the internet or telephone or any other medium, Business Today said.

It seems plain the bricks and mortar versus online debate in India has some way to go.

- here's the story from Business Today