Indian pharmacies hold national strike to protest online sales

Some 800,000 brick-and-mortar pharmacies across India held a one-day strike this week to protest what they say are "illegal" online sales of medicines that are affecting up to 50% of their business, according to various reports.

Members of the All-India Organization of Chemists and Druggists (AIOCD) "observed a 100% (strike) today (Wednesday) to protest against the illegal online sale of medicines," AIOCD President J.S. Shinde said in a report in India Today. "Our own investigation has shown that anti-pregnancy pills, sleeping pills and steroids are being sold freely online."

The government says it is drawing up new rules and regulations governing online sales, but pharmacy reps say they oppose the move in the "larger public interest," according to the India Today report.

Shinde said in the India Today article that to "protest the interests of a handful of players" against the wider interests of 800,000 pharmacies was wrong. The paper also pointed out that under current Indian law, online sales of medicines are prohibited.

Shinde also told India Today that to allow online sales would increase the risks of adverse reactions to drugs, increase the risk of people getting low-quality drugs and increase the risk of people receiving misbranded or fake products.

Government officials have taken action against some online marketplaces. Snapdeal, one of India's biggest, was cited by officials in one state for illegally selling drugs online after investigators used the site to buy the morning-after contraceptive pill, according to a report in the Financial Times.

Other startups like Zigy and 1mg allow people to buy drugs online but say they are acting as intermediaries that simply connect customers with brick-and-mortar pharmacies, the FT reported.

Shinde told the FT that such online platforms allow "tech-savvy youth" to obtain prescription drugs improperly, but that idea was called "ironic" at best by some officials who said people can easily get prescription drugs from any pharmacy.

"It's a laughable thing," Murali Neelakantan, former general counsel of India's Cipla, told the FT. "You can buy any medication over the counter here. Most of them don't even have a pharmacist in the shop. … It's very rich of them to be saying online pharmacies are dangerous."

- here's a story from India Today
- and one from the FT