Aims a level playing field to drive innovation in this sector
At a recently held press conference in Mumbai, the Indian Internet Pharmacy Association (IIPA) called for regulators and the government to help ensure that there is an end to the harassment faced by new entrepreneurs in this space. IIPA has explained its business model in detail and is demanding a level field for all players in the pharmacy space, without favour or bias. They seek clarity on guidelines to enable legitimate players to develop their business in this space and bring in the much needed innovation and technology-driven transparency in this sector, leveraging best practices from across the world.
IIPA mentioned that new-age retail pharmacies want to partner with digital platforms to develop and grow their business; and investors have shown a keen interest to participate – however, the unprecedented and high handed activity by AIOCD and Maharashtra FDA have brought up serious questions around the re-strengthening of the ‘license raj’, reduced ease of doing business and a negative environment for innovation, especially in Maharashtra.
According to IIPA, taking inspiration from the vision for Digital India – eHealth has to be an integral component of this all-encompassing vision and the country has an opportunity to transform access to quality healthcare for citizens across the nation. A core component of the eHealth plan is e-Access to medicine, through mobile and Internet based platforms.
IIPA brings together the legitimate players in this segment to improve the last mile access of medicines using digital technologies without compromising the safety of the patient. It aims to contain the potential for any abuse. The IPA which is an association of E-Pharmacy players and their vendors announced that they are specifically being targeted with an apparent bias and operations are put under disproportionate scrutiny by the concerned authorities and governing bodies. The challenge that these companies face today is of stiff resistance, including unwarranted disruptions from the government machinery, particularly in Maharashtra and Karnataka, and the prevailing trade association that is averse to any new models or transparency in this space.
IIPA members have requested to impress upon the Sub-Committee created by the 48th Drug Consultative Committee to formulate guidelines on the use of Technology & E-Pharmacies to note this model and appreciate its legal validity. They have also suggested best practices from around the world to help draw out a model system of pharmacy retail in India, and are keen to work with the regulator to draw out the blueprint to address all the key issues that plague this sector, which is today one of the most poorly performing and consumer-unfriendly system. All the issues that plague the current system point to a failure of the current model, which needs rapid innovation and technology.
The Drug Controller General (India) (DCG(I) had earlier directed all the state/UT drugs controllers to keep a strict watch on online sale of drugs and take action against those engaged in online sale of drugs, if that is found to be in violation of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act and Rules there under. IIPA supports all efforts to clamp down on violations of the act and help clear the misconceptions. As clarified by the IIPA, there are potentially multiple online pharmacies operating from different parts of the world that need to be monitored and action should be taken against. In most countries, to fight this menace of cross border Internet pharmacies, the legitimate players are given specific operating licenses – that are shared with consumers. IIPA recommends a similar model for India, and also a crackdown on all illegitimate players, online and offline.
A series of events happened where Maharashtra FDA recently lodged a complaint against Pharmeasy, the licenses of vendor partners of Zigy and Medidart were cancelled in Karnataka. For Zigy, the ePharmacy marketplace, the license for a vendor partner in Bengaluru was cancelled. Similarly, there have been reported FIRs against two companies — mChemist and Merapharmacy.
IIPA members share the vision which is in sync with the Digital India and Startup India campaigns of the Government. There has been so far been no support or clarification in this space and the sub-committee formed has been showing a fairly biased view on this looking at the statements of Maharashtra FDA commissioner, who incidentally heads the sub-committee to recommend guidelines for ePharmacy models.
IIPA members further shared their recommendations for facing challenges to scale and provide services to the consumers especially in cities like Mumbai, Pune and Bangalore. They stated that their business operations are fully transparent, with all transactions well documented and recorded while there is a willingness to work with the regulators to improve the system. The press conference called in for innovative models for e-pharmacy and e-health access to be encouraged to bring more transparency in the system.