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AIOCD writes letter to PM objecting to promotion of E-pharmacies on Aarogya Setu app

The four e-pharmacies listed on the AarogyaSetu App platform are 1MG, PharmEasy, NetMeds and MedLife

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The four e-pharmacies listed on the AarogyaSetu App platform are 1MG, PharmEasy, NetMeds and MedLife

The All India Organisation of Chemists and Druggist (AIOCD) has opposed the commercial promotion of online pharmacies on the AarogyaSetu App. It has also written a letter to Prime Minister Modi, objecting NITI AAYOG’s move to allow e-pharmacies to be promoted through the government’s application.

Presently, the AarogyaSetu App platform lists four e-pharmacies – 1MG, PharmEasy, NetMeds and MedLife.

The letter states, “Without prejudice, at the outset, we communicate our support to the endeavours of the Central Government in handling the current crisis. We also, in principle, support the use of AAROGYA SETU mobile application for monitoring COVID-19 affected persons subject to, inter alia, taking due precautions of the confidential medical record of the users and affected persons and compliance with other provisions of law.

But, the letter also highlights that under the provision of Drugs and Cosmetic Act, 1940 and the rules framed thereunder only licensed entities can store, exhibit, offer for sale, sell, and distribute medicines. It is an admitted position that e-pharmacies operating in India do not hold license under the Act to deal in medicines. In fact, the rules of operation of E-pharmacy in India are still at a draft stage and have not yet been notified in view of several objections from stakeholders and drug department.

Rajiv Singhal, General Secretary, AIOCD, informs, “All e-pharmacies including 1MG, PharmEasy, NetMeds and MedLife are operating illegally and in violation of the provision of Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940 and Rules, 1945 framed thereunder. We have already filed a case against the NITI AAYOG in the Delhi High Court and our next hearing is on May 29, 2020. We have been fighting against e-pharmacy entities since long and are in continuous discussion with Central Government, which were kept on hold due to sudden outbreak of pandemic COVID-19. Already, various High courts have passed an order against Central Government and E-pharmacy operating without a law in place and without a license. AIOCD’s main contention is internet pharmacies and the illusion that e-pharmacies are reaching out to customers at their homes. But the Government must keep in mind, during natural calamities like floods or pandemics like COVID-19, when normal operations were paralysed, it was only and only the local chemists who rushed to help of public across the country day and night.”

In the letter, AIOCD also complains against a link on the AAROGYA SETU application, WWW.AAROGYASETUMITR.IN, a website affiliated to the Central Government and AAROGYA SETU application.

AarogyaSetu Mitr is an effort to bring healthcare services to the doorstep of all Indians in the time of the COVID-19 crisis. This initiative has been facilitated by the offices of the principal scientific advisor to the PM and NITI Aayog, with voluntary participation from organisations, industry coalitions, and startups who have helped create a platform for citizens of India to connect with some key services at home. The key service provided is free tele-consults for patients who may have COVID-19 like symptoms, along with ancillary services like home collection of samples for diagnostics and medicine delivery at home.

But Singhal stated, “AarogyaSetu Mitr is developed by private players in collaboration with the Government. AIOCD believes that private players and organisations who have developed the website have vested commercial interests and have misled the Government and the public trust reposed in the AAROGYASETU APP by permitting illegally operating e-pharmacies to register on the website.”

He also pointed out, “With regards to online medicines, the website lays down some criteria for listing the e-pharmacies such as servicing a minimum of10,000 pin codes, three-plus years’ experience, minimum 95 per cent service levels guaranteed etc. But, it was evident that during the first lockdown, when transporters, courier agencies were gone out of the field; these e-pharmacies had to shut their operations. At that time too, our members were seamlessly providing doorstep delivery services to customers, in spite of the challenges posed by the lockdown. Today, the country has 19100 pin codes and we ensure that in each and every corner of the country, medicines get delivered. Therefore, we at AIOCD, point out a gross contradiction between the rough decision of NITI Aayog and the announcement of Prime Minister ‘Support Local and be Vocal for Local’.”

On March 26, 2020, the Government of India has issued a notification under Section 26-B of the Act, that home delivery of medicines by licensed retailers within the same district has been permitted subject to compliance with the norms mentioned in the said notification. Section 26B gives limited power to the Central Government to regulate sale and distribution of only such drugs that are essential to address the epidemic.

The Sub-Committee of E-pharmacy constituted by the Drugs Consultative Committee, in its detailed report dated 30/9/2016, has pointed out several risks involved in the sale of medicines by e-pharmacies which include:
i. Multiplicity of dispensing of medicines since there is no mechanism stamping of a prescription in the existing model of e-pharmacies.
ii. Increase of Drug Addicts.
iii. Increase of self-medication.
iv. Mishandling of drugs during storage and transportation.

The AIOCD has appealed to Prime Minister Modi, other concerned Ministries and top bureaucrats to delink the e-pharmacy marketing app, and resume a meeting with AIOCD to discuss the agenda of sale of medicines on the Internet after the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. and Pharmeasy opted to remain quiet on this development.

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