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Indian Pharmacists Association writes to DGCI protesting online pharmacies

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The Indian Pharmacists Association (IPA) has written a letter to the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) for not allowing ecommerce companies and online pharmacies to sell medicine and drugs in India. Abhay Kumar, national president of the IPA told MediaNama that the moves of the DCGI is in contravention of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act which says that drugs can be dispensed only in registered pharmacies and cannot be sold online. “Even when it comes to the over the counter (OTC) drugs they must be sold in pharmacies only even though you do not need a physician’s prescription for it,” Kumar said.

The letter takes prominence following news that the DCGI is formulating a framework for online sales of medicines through e-commerce channels. Industry body FICCI has been appointed as the nodal agency by the DCGI to consolidate the guidelines, and said it will seek the views of various representative bodies. FICCI said that the views of OPPI, All India Chemists and Druggists Association, States Chemists and Druggists Associations, Indian Medical Association, CIPI, BDMA, PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry and consumer forums, will be sought in this regard.

It’s worth remembering that in May the Maharashtra’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) filed an FIR against Snapdeal CEO Kunal Bahl and the company’s directors for selling prescription drugs on the e-commerce. Snapdeal was reportedly selling sildenafil citrate tablets (Viagra), that only urologists, psychiatrists, endocrinologists and dermatologists can prescribe. In addition the marketplace was also selling OTC emergency contraceptives. Currently, the company has removed all listings of products even remotely related to health & medicines. See here, here, here and here.

In the same month the Gujarat FDA also raided Prowisor Pharma, a  Surat-based online pharmacy that was reportedly selling drugs worth Rs.7 lakh online.

Supply chain issues and inspections

The IPA’s Abhay Kumar also highlighted that there could be issues in supply chains of online marketplaces which could lead to the sale of counterfeit drugs. “There are a number of questions of how online stores can manage quality etc. And when it comes to medicine you can’t really play with the lives of people.  There are a lot of regulations from the manufacturer, to the distributor, to the wholesaler and there are a lot of checks involved. Drug inspectors conduct regular checks and regular samples need to be taken and report the same,” he added.

Intermediary liability 

It needs to be pointed out that marketplaces and intermediaries like Snapdeal are somewhat protected by Section 79 of the IT Act, 2008. It proffers safe harbor to Intermediaries, as long as they act on complaints and do not knowingly allow the usage of their platform to break the law. So, legally they seem to be on safe ground, however as we have pointed out earlier there is a need for better understanding of the responsibility, accountability and liability of platforms, marketplaces and aggregators.

Image source: Flickr user ep_jhu

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